Gun owners in the state are up in arms over a recent ruling by Attorney General Lisa Madigan that the names of those with Firearm Owner's Identification (FOID) cards be made public.
Recently, the Associated Press news wire filed a request with the Illinois State Police asking that the names of all 1.3 million FOID card holders be released. State police refused, stating that releasing the information would violate the privacy of gun owners.
The dispute then went to Madigan, who ruled that the list of cardholders is public record and must be disclosed.
Gun advocates have asked Madigan to reverse her decision, or for lawmakers to overturn it. Bills have been introduced in both houses to prohibit disclosure of the information.
Thousands of gun owners converged on the state Capitol on Thursday to protest the release of the information.
Anti-violence groups believe the information should be released in order to keep government accountable. It also allows citizens to find out who in their neighborhood may be armed, they say.
Others argue that releasing these records will violate the privacy of gun owners, with their private information purportedly being available to street gangs and gun-control groups who could use the information to target them for crime and harassment.
Madigan's ruling states that only the names of FOID cardholders be released; their addresses and phone numbers would remain private. Groups who want to use the list to further their own agenda, then, would have to do their own research to find ways to contact these gun owners -not an impossible task, but certainly a time-consuming one.
It would be even less likely that random criminals would research the list to find the homes of residents who own (or who don't own) guns, in order to target them for crime. That's an unlikely scenario.
It is the job of Attorney General Madigan to enforce open records and freedom of information law in Illinois. These laws, often called "sunshine laws," were put in place to ensure that government operates in the open - in the sunshine.
Madigan has been a staunch proponent of keeping public records public, and rightly so. Public access to state records is guaranteed through open records law, and state courts have adopted a narrow view in allowing any exceptions to the law.
Like the courts, we believe that access to public records is a right that should not be quickly revoked. Citizens pay taxes in order for the state to handle procedures like FOID; taxpayers have a right to know where their money goes.
The FOID cards were implemented to track gun owners as a way to protect the public's safety. We see no overwhelming argument that releasing the names of these cardholders would jeopardize the public safety nor violate the privacy of gun owners.
The names of FOID cardholders in Illinois should be released.