QUINCY — Eric Jones is watching the calendar as the expiration date on his concealed carry firearms permit approaches while the state faces huge delays in renewing permits.
“If it expires before they get me recertified, I’m supposed to send in my concealed carry certificate. I’ve already paid my fee. I hope I don’t have to do that again and then go through the 16 hours of training that I went through in order to get my permit the first time,” Jones said.
Jim Bland, an instructor for Western Illinois Shooting Excellence Firearm Training, said people seeking to recertify for concealed carry will need to take a minimum of three hours of training to qualify for renewal. So Jones or anyone else seeking a renewal should not have to start from scratch.
Bland also has heard about the permit backlog. His wife’s certification was supposed to expire April 1. She got her new permit on Monday — about two and a half months late.
The bottleneck for permit renewals should have been anticipated, said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.
Illinois became the last state to approve some form of concealed carry. Applications for permits were available in January 2014. Permits are good for five years.
“It’s not like they didn’t know they’d be coming due,” Pearson said.
“I think my concealed carry permit was due about April 1. They were four or five weeks late getting the permit to me. I think I got it about the second week in May,” Pearson said.
Much of the problem can be traced back to staff cuts the Illinois State Police saw in the department that handles concealed carry permits and firearms owners identification card applications. Pearson said 39 people were in that unit a decade ago. The staffing level then got reduced to 13 workers during the term of Gov. Pat Quinn.
The Illinois State Police collects $120 from each $150 permit fee. And with 328,000 concealed carry permits issued, more than $39 million could have been providing the money to hire more staff members. But Pearson said the state has “reduced the amount going to the State Police” to essentially keep the agency at or near its earlier funding level while using the new revenue for other state expenses.
State Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said lawmakers were made aware that lots of permits would be coming due this year. She said Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly has been trying to hire people.
In some cases where lawmakers have checked on delayed firearms permits they found that applications had an error or missing information.
Tracy said the State Police also are under added pressure to find any potentially violent applicants after the Aurora shootings which were done by a man whose felony convictions in another state should have led to the loss of his firearms.
“We’re trying to give the State Police the tools they need, but we’re trying not to put (firearm) laws on top of laws” when not all of the current gun laws are being fully applied, Tracy said.
The Illinois State Police did not have a comment by press time.
Pearson’s advice for anyone whose concealed carry permit expires is to not carry a concealed firearm.
“The State Police have said they wouldn’t make arrests when (renewals) are delayed. But local policemen haven’t made that same promise and some firearms owners are getting clobbered,” Pearson said.
Bland said state law allows people to carry a concealed weapon even after their permits expire as long as they’ve taken recertification training and applied in a timely manner for renewal. However, the former Chicago police officer agrees that “you might have to argue that in front of a judge” if a law enforcement official makes an arrest.