Judges rule gun owners can't use FOIA requests to obtain copies of letters explaining why their FOID cards were denied, revoked
In a unanimous decision, the Illinois Supreme Court declared on Thursday that individuals can acquire records about their own Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards but cannot employ the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to do so.
The court, in a 7-0 ruling, affirmed the Illinois State Police's (ISP) right to deny FOIA requests from individuals seeking copies of letters elucidating the denial or revocation of their FOID cards. Justice Joy Cunningham, in the court's opinion, stated that while ISP does not dispute individuals' right to access their records, FOIA is not the appropriate avenue for obtaining such information.
At the heart of the case is the 2011 amendment to the Freedom of Information Act, shielding from public disclosure the names and details of those who have applied for or received FOID cards or concealed carry permits. This amendment was prompted by the Associated Press's broad FOIA request, seeking the names and expiration dates of all FOID cardholders in the state.
The ruling specifically addressed two unrelated cases from Madison County involving Sandra Hart and Kenneth Burgess Sr. Both sought documents related to their FOID cards, intending to understand why their cards faced denial or revocation. Thomas Maag, the attorney representing the cases, explained that the individuals had lost the original documents and sought copies for the purpose of appealing the revocations.
While ISP denied the FOIA requests based on the FOIA exemption, both the Madison County Circuit Court and the 5th District Court of Appeals, in 2022, sided with the applicants. They argued that the FOIA exemption was not designed to obstruct individuals from accessing their own records.
The trial and appellate courts emphasized the use of plural language in the 2011 amendment, preventing the release of "names" and information of "people" who applied for or received permits. They contended that the plural wording signaled lawmakers' intent to allow individuals access to their own information.
However, the Supreme Court disagreed, asserting that the use of plural words "does not, in itself, mean that a request for one’s own information" is permissible under the 2011 amendment.
The court suggested that individuals seeking their FOID card applications and revocation letters should approach the Firearms Services Bureau, the ISP division responsible for processing FOID cards.