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Gun rights advocates: Judge’s ruling “enhances” gun owners’ privacy

December 09, 2011 at 10:19 PM

Peoria Journal-Star

PEORIA — Gun-rights advocates are doubly relieved with Peoria County Circuit Judge Michael Brandt’s ruling that blocks the names of Illinois’ 1.3 million gun-card holders from being released to the public.

Brandt’s decision comes after Illinois legislators passed a law earlier this year barring access to the names of people who hold firearm owner’s identification (FOID) cards from the public.

“We all know legislators are only as good as their word until the next election,” said Richard Pearson, director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. “Now we’ve got a legislative decision and a court decision.”

Pearson said Brandt’s ruling enhanced legal gun owners’ privacy. While the new law exempted FOID cardholders from the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Brandt’s order also prevents information on transactions, background checks and purchases from being open to the public.

In requesting the names of gun-card holders, The Associated Press set off the battle between the state’s FOID and FOIA laws that boiled down to a battle between cardholders’ privacy and the public’s right to know.

Though Illinois State Police, which oversees the FOID list, disagreed, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan backed the AP request.

Outraged gun-rights advocates fought the move on two fronts, successfully pushing for a law that forbids names from release and filing the lawsuit against the AP and State Police.

By the time Brandt issued a permanent injunction, the state had passed the law, the AP had dropped its request and the Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA) was left fighting a lawsuit against an ally, the Illinois State Police.

The gun lobby won because state lawmakers agreed with them, said Harold Krent, dean of the Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology. And Brandt’s ruling basically deferred to legislators, which is not unusual.

“It’s unclear how much privacy the court would have decided gun card holders actually enjoy,” Krent said. “They didn’t have to because the Legislature decided for them.”

Krent called the entire issue an “interesting social tale” that raises difficult questions about whether the initial legislative decision was good social policy or whether media organizations could challenge the decisions on First Amendment grounds.

“And, at some points, the gun lobby says everybody should be proud and open about owning a gun legally, but here, they don’t want anybody to know. That’s one of the social anomalies of the case.”

Kevin Monk, of Lowpoint, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, described himself as a proud member of ISRA and a longtime National Rifle Association instructor. He called the ruling a victory for both FOID cardholders and non-cardholders.

Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member of the Poynter Institute of Media Studies, says she hears similar criticisms when media outlets in other states have published databases of residents with various kinds of gun licenses.

“I spend a lot of time talking to newsrooms about what to do with the records once they get them.”

The records can be useful in mining trends or examining how well a state’s gun-licensing laws are working, she said. For instance, newspaper investigations in Florida, Tennessee and Indiana found hundreds of people with concealed-carry licenses who had either pleaded guilty or been convicted of felonies.

Pearson said he expects an appeal, possibly by the attorney general’s office or media organizations. And if there is an appeal, McBride suspects a government could have a hard time justifying keeping government records completely closed.

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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