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Gun advocacy group goes ahead with lawsuit over FOID card information

August 24, 2011 at 09:10 PM

The Associated Press

CHICAGO — A gun-advocacy group is pushing ahead with a lawsuit over firearm owner identification cards in Illinois even though a favorable new state law appeared to give them just what they sought: a prohibition on the public release of gun-holder names. 

The Illinois State Rifle Association wants to continue the lawsuit in hopes a judge will eventually establish an unassailable constitutional right to keep the ID-card data secret, the group’s attorney, Stanley Tucker, said Wednesday.

“Theoretically, a future legislature could reverse (the new law)” said Tucker, speaking after a Circuit Court hearing in Peoria on the matter. “We will be pushing for a ruling on constitutional grounds for that reason.”

In response to a request from The Associated Press, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office ruled earlier this year the 1.3 million names of FOID card holders are public under the state’s open records law and should be released. That set off a storm of protests from gun owners, who said they feared criminals would use the information to steal guns or target those who weren’t armed. 

At Wednesday’s hearing, Circuit Judge Michael Brandt dismissed the AP from the lawsuit.

That leaves as the lone defendant the Illinois State Police, and it has largely agreed with the rifle association’s staunch opposition to releasing the names.

The AP had withdrawn its public records request for the information several months ago. The news organization’s attorney, Donald Craven, said the issue was moot and there was no reason for the case to go further.

“Litigation is an adversarial process, and there are no adversaries here,” AP attorney Donald Craven. “They are on the same team and have been form the beginning.”

The attorney representing the state police in the case, former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, conceded the point, saying that, with the AP off the case, “you now have a plaintiff and a defendant who substantially agree.”

“They want us to pay (court) costs and we don’t want to pay costs,” he added. “That’s the only disagreement.”

Advocates of tighter restrictions on guns have said releasing cardholders’ names would allow better public scrutiny of state safeguards designed to prevent certain groups, including convicted felons, from obtaining weapons. 

Thompson said he would not oppose the state judge offering a more sweeping ruling on constitutional grounds, saying it would offer “more clarity.” But judges, he continued, are often reluctant to ground their opinions in the constitution when a relevant law is in place. 

Madigan’s office issued a decree early this year on the issue after the state police refused to release to the names to the AP. That’s when the rifle association file its lawsuit naming the AP and the state police, and the circuit court in Peoria entered a temporary restraining order stopping the release of the cardholder names. 

Illinois lawmakers voted in May to pass the measure overturning the ruling by Madigan’s office. With the new law in place, the AP withdrew its request for the names, leading to its dismissal from the case on Wednesday. 

Messages seeking comment from Madigan’s office on Wednesday evening weren’t immediately returned.

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