Illinois lawmakers voted overwhelming Friday to bar the public from knowing who holds a firearm owner identification card, a victory for gun owners who say they have a right to privacy over open-government advocates who say such records should not be secret.
In a 42-1 vote, the Senate passed a measure overturning a ruling by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office that said the names are public under the state's open records law. It now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, who said he agrees the information should remain confidential and will "act accordingly" after reviewing the legislation.
Madigan's office issued the decree earlier this year after the Illinois State Police refused to release to The Associated Press the names of 1.3 million people who are registered to own firearms. The AP's request set off howls of protests from gun owners and the state police, who said they feared criminals would use the information to steal guns or target those who aren't armed.
"We've always felt that the intent of the FOID law was to keep everything private," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. "We have (privacy laws) for medical records ... anything that could be used to do harm to the public should be kept secure."
Madigan's office said the State Police had given no proof to back up claims that releasing the names would endanger gun owners, and said the opinion applied only to permit holders' names and the expiration dates on their permits; addresses and phone numbers would remain private. The AP did not ask for cardholders' addresses.
The AP sought the records to, among other things, review governmental action.
"These records and open access to government officials help shine a light into the dark places where wrongdoing can occur, and historically always has," said Michael Oreskes, the AP's senior managing editor for U.S. news. "The actions of government should be transparent to all, which is why we sought the FOID cards and will continue to seek other government records in the future."
By prohibiting the names' release, Illinois would follow the lead of Florida and Tennessee, which shut off access to information about people with permits to carry concealed firearms after newspapers revealed significant lapses.
A newspaper investigation in south Florida published in 2007 found that 1,400 people given concealed-carry licenses in the first half of 2006 had earlier pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies. In Memphis, Tenn., a newspaper found at least 70 people in the metropolitan area with carry permits despite violent histories.
It was unclear Friday whether a lawsuit brought by the Illinois State Rifle Association against the state police and the AP to block release of the names would continue. AP attorney Don Craven said the lawsuit "was clearly an effort" by the rifle association and state police, which agreed with the rifle association's position, to avoid the ruling by the attorney general's office.
The Illinois State Police referred questions to the governor's office, while the attorney general's office did not respond immediately Friday to a request for comment.
Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said if cardholders' names are shielded from public scrutiny, "there needs to be assurances by government officials that they will audit the system to make sure it's working as intended."
"What is the mechanism, then, for Illinois state government to ensure the citizens that the permitting system is working as intended and that people aren't slipping through the cracks?" Malte said.
Todd Vandermyde, the Illinois lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said neither the media nor the general public has right to information on gun owners and suggested lawmakers should not even have required FOID cards.
"It's nobody's business what I keep in my home," he said. "It's not my fault the state of Illinois requires me to get a license to exercise a constitutional right. Just because I choose to exercise it is no reason for the news or anyone else to be prodding around in my rights."
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said if government thinks it's important enough to regulate an activity, "then the fact of who they are regulating and how they are regulating them should be public."
"If Illinois wants to run the state of Illinois like the Wild, Wild West and not have any gun regulations whatsoever under any circumstances, (then) there's no right to get any information," she said. "But since Illinois has decided to get into the business of somehow regulating who has guns and who doesn't, the public should have access to that information."
The bill is HB3500.
Associated Press writer Deanna Bellandi contributed to this report.