What is a FOID Card
Let’s start with what “FOID” stands for: Firearms Owners Identification. The name itself should tell you everything you need to know. A FOID card is essentially a license that the state requires residents to obtain in order to legally purchase or own any firearms or ammunition.
Illinois is currently the only state in the Union to require a FOID card, although a few other states have their own version of the license or permits that serve a similar purpose.
For example, the state of New York requires residents to obtain a permit to purchase and own a handgun. The State of Hawaii has a similar Permit to Acquire that requires completion of a firearm safety or training course (see Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2).
The state of Massachusetts has 2 different types of licenses that residents must obtain in order to purchase, own, or possess various types of firearms. These are the FID card and LTC-A. A FID card allows a resident to have a non-large capacity long gun.
An LTC-A allows residents to obtain large capacity long guns and handguns. This license also allows an individual to concealed carry given they have no restrictions placed on them.
What is the Purpose of a FOID Card?
According to the Illinois State Police website, the purpose of the FOID card is to identify individuals who are eligible to purchase and possess firearms. Given that there are specific laws and conditions that one must have broken to become ineligible, it’s safe to say that most law-abiding Illinois residents are eligible to receive a FOID card.
It is also worth noting that the ISP website states that its website is not intended to replace statutory language.
The Illinois General Assembly website paints a slightly different picture. According to 430 Illinois Compiled Statutes (ICS) 65, the explicit purpose of the FOID card is to identify individuals who are not eligible to own or possess a firearm or ammunition.
Regardless, the result of the FOID Card Act is a state record of gun owners and users. And if you don’t have a FOID card, using or owning a firearm will get you thrown behind bars.
Public Safety is the Prominent Reason Given for Establishing These Laws
By and large, the United States is a safer place than it was when these laws were originally passed. The 60s especially were a very turbulent time and crime was rampant. And while many Americans may feel that this nation is more dangerous now than it was in the past, the violent crime rate is lower than decades past. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the homicide rate peaked in 1980 at 10.2 per 100,000 people. The CDC Mortality Dashboard shows that in 2020, the homicide rate spiked to 6.6 per 100,000 people.
Even though pockets of violence still exist in states with firearm ID laws, it’s not nearly as widespread as it once was.
How Long Have FOID Cards Existed?
Firearm ID cards are relatively new in both Illinois and Massachusetts. Both were passed in their respective state in 1968 as part of public safety initiatives.
New York’s licensing laws are significantly older. Handgun permits in New York were first required by the Sullivan Act of 1911 in response to rising urban crime.
FOID cards and Concealed Carry
While a Massachusetts LTC-A does permit an individual to concealed carry, it is the only state that handles firearm IDs in this way.
Again, it’s important to note that firearm ID cards in Illinois and New York are not the same as concealed carry licenses (CCL).
However, in both Illinois and New York you must have a FOID card or New York Pistol License (respectively) in order to apply for a concealed carry license. That’s where the similarities between the two states end.
Shall-Issue or May-Issue?
Of the 3 states requiring firearm IDs, Illinois is the only one to adopt a “shall-issue” policy for concealed carry licenses. Once a valid FOID cardholder completes 16 hours of training and passes a universal background check—among other conditions—the Illinois State Police will issue them a license once they have received the president’s application.
New York and Massachusetts on the other hand have “may-issue” policies. That means that even after you’ve met all the requirements and paid to apply, the state can deny your application and keep you from exercising your right to carry a concealed firearm.
How are FOID Cards Viewed by the Public?
Public opinions regarding the FOID Act and other firearm ID laws are widely varied. For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on Illinois where the topic is under intense scrutiny.
Proponents of firearm regulations argue that the FOID Act helps keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals. Many of these advocates would argue that the gun violence in Cook County or Winnebago County, Illinois is directly attributable to relaxed gun laws in neighboring states.
On the other hand, pro-gun advocates in the state argue that the current gun laws on the books, including the FOID Act, restrict law-abiding citizens’ ability to exercise their constitutionally protected rights. One key issue is that applicants must pay a modest fee in order to apply for a right supposedly guaranteed by the state constitution.
Some Counties Have Taken the Issue into Their Own Hands
26 of the counties in Illinois have dubbed themselves “gun sanctuaries” who will not enforce gun laws they deem to be unconstitutional. Another 13 counties are considering whether or not to become gun sanctuaries. If they did, then ⅓ of the state’s counties would have the title.
Legal Challenges to FOID Cards
There have been a handful of legal challenges to firearm identification laws over the last couple of decades, but two of the more prominent cases that we’ll cover pertain to the Illinois FOID Act.
The People of Illinois v. Brown
This specific reason doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you live or work in an area with high crime rates, you should carry a concealed firearm in the interest of protecting yourself. If you live in a state that r
The most prominent challenge to the FOID Card Act in Illinois is the 2017 case of The People of Illinois vs. Vivian C. Brown. Back when Vivian was charged in 2017, her estranged husband filed a complaint with the White County Sheriff’s Department alleging that Vivian was firing a gun in her Carmi, Illinois residence.
The responding deputies found Brown in possession of a .22 bolt action rifle but found no evidence that the weapon had been discharged.
Brown was charged with violating the FOID Act by possessing a firearm without a FOID card.
The Illinois Second Judicial Circuit Court ruled that the requirement to obtain a FOID card in order to possess a firearm in one’s own home violated the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 22 of the Illinois Constitution. The charges against Brown were dropped.
In the court’s opinion, it was impossible to comply with the FOID Act within one’s home.
Because any individual with knowledge of the firearm’s location within the home exercises constructive possession of the firearm if they have immediate and exclusive access to the area where the firearm is stored.
Under the FOID Act, every individual with constructive possession of a firearm must have a FOID Card. The court’s opinion states that the FOID Act was not intended to be applied to an individual’s home.
The state appealed the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.
On April 2nd of 2020, the court remanded the decision and sent it back to the circuit court.
The Circuit Court issued a second ruling on the case in 2021.
Resident Judge T. Scott Webb reaffirmed the court’s earlier ruling that the FOID Card Act is unconstitutional because it bars citizens from exercising their constitutional rights prior to paying a fee as well as submitting an application and a photograph.
This time, the constitutionality of the law was presented as a core component of the court’s verdict, so the Illinois Supreme Court will have to make a ruling if the state decides to appeal.
The People of Illinois v. Holmes
All the way back in 2005, Indiana resident Leonard Holmes was arrested by the Chicago Police Department for having a loaded revolver in the back seat of his car. He was charged with violating the FOID act and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. While Holmes had an Indiana firearms permit, he did not have an Illinois FOID card.
In 2011, the Illinois Supreme Court concluded that non-Illinois residents who had a permit to possess firearms in their home state were not required to obtain an Illinois FOID card.
Not All States are the Same
It’s important to note that while this ruling is valid within Illinois, the Supreme Courts of other states may not view the matter in the same light. Massachusetts, the other state with sweeping firearm ID laws, technically has provisions that allow non-residents to pass through the state with a firearm even if they don’t have an FID license.
However, if you are arrested on the claim that you were not passing through, you will have to prove it in court.
FOID is the Law
Despite the challenges the FOID Act has received, it remains a foundational aspect of Illinois firearms law. Obtaining a FOID card is a necessity for firearm ownership in the state, and failing to obtain it will have serious legal ramifications.
Obtaining a firearm ID or applicable license is the first step that millions of Americans in Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts must take on their journey towards obtaining a concealed carry license.
And while all three states are not considered “gun-friendly” states by any means, Illinois is by far the least restrictive of the bunch when it comes to firearm ownership and concealed carry.
If you’ve received your firearm ID and are ready to engage in concealed carry training, be sure to check out our concealed carry and firearms training classes.
Legal Heat will be holding concealed carry courses for first-time applicants as well as permit renewal classes for those whose permits are set to expire soon. You can expect to see these classes across Northern and Central Illinois, the greater Boston area, and upstate New York.
Each class we teach enables you to carry in more than 30 states and prepares you to comply with frequently changing firearms laws and regulations. Our experts prepare you to exercise your rights within the scope of the law so that you don’t become an accidental gun felon.
Join the more than 250,000 Americans who have trusted Legal Heat for their concealed carry training.
Phil Nelsen is a nationally recognized firearms law attorney, expert witness, college professor, author, and co-founder of Legal Heat, the nation’s largest firearms training firm.
Legal Heat offers CCW classes nationwide, and also publishes the industry-leading Legal Heat 50 State Guide to Firearm Laws and Regulations which can be downloaded on iTunes, GooglePlay, and Kindle App stores. You can purchase the paperback version of the Legal Heat 50 State Guide or sign up for a class at https://legalheat.com.
You can read more about Phil, or contact him, on his website www.philnelsen.com.