SPRINGFIELD — If there is any point of agreement in the polarizing issue of gun control it is that people with mental problems shouldn’t be anywhere near a loaded weapon.
But, as lawmakers begin to discuss a policy that would allow qualified Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons, serious questions have been raised about one of the key lines of defense in keeping potentially dangerous people from owning guns.
Under Illinois law, people found mentally incompetent or not guilty by reason of insanity are not qualified to hold a Firearms Owner Identification card.
A recent audit of the FOID program, however, found nearly all counties in Illinois were not submitting court orders to the state that would ban mentally ill card holders from owning firearms.
“The effectiveness of the Illinois FOID card program … is limited in promoting and protecting the safety of the public,” wrote Auditor General William Holland in the April 2012 report.
Since the report was issued, lawmakers, the Illinois State Police and others have been scrambling to address the problems.
State Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, was among those who called for the audit as a way to determine whether the FOID card program was working. He said it is important the state law is clear on the subject of mentally ill people and guns.
But, he said, “It is almost impossible to stop a truly motivated person who is not concerned about the consequences.”
Gov. Pat Quinn also has made it clear he believes mental health should be an important part of any changes in gun laws that might arise out of Illinois’ foray into concealed carry.
“We do not want disturbed or deranged individuals to have access to deadly weapons,” Quinn said.
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The audit reviewed the state’s 44-year-old FOID program between 2008 and 2010 and found circuit court clerks in 99 of Illinois’ 102 counties weren’t forwarding names of potentially ineligible card holders to the Illinois State Police, which oversees the FOID program.
The failure to forward the information was the result of a state law that says a judge “shall direct” a circuit clerk to forward information about a mental illness ruling to the state police.
Without a specific order from a judge, the clerks were not passing along the decision.
In response, state police spokeswoman Monique Bond said the agency has opened the lines of communication with circuit clerks and the state court system in hopes of better coordinating the flow of information.
In August, Quinn signed legislation requiring clerks to ensure state police are receiving up-to-date information about mental health findings.
In addition, the Illinois Administrative Office of the Courts is providing additional training for clerks.
On Tuesday, Bond also noted a new FOID application was created and more people are answering telephone calls from people checking on the status of their FOID applications.