Citing a flood of lawsuits from applicants who were denied concealed carry permits because of objections from local law enforcement that were shrouded in secrecy, the Illinois State Police announced Monday that it will require a state review board to give more information about why applications are rejected.
The amendments direct the board to notify an applicant if their application is likely to be denied, giving them an opportunity to refute the objection.
The new rules, filed Thursday as emergency amendments and distributed publicly on Monday, are already in effect, according to the state police.
Under the previous system, the seven-member Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board met behind closed doors to consider objections raised by local officials, including an individual's arrest record or other run-ins with police that did not result in criminal convictions. If the board sustained an objection, the applicant was notified by mail that their application had been denied, without any explanation as to why. Applicants were told that their only recourse was to take the matter to court, and more than 200 denied applicants sued.
The new rules were put in place less than a week after a Tribune report detailed the issue. State police spokeswoman Monique Bond said the board and the attorney general's office “have been working on these rules for some time.”
Under the new rules, the board is required to notify an applicant if there is a credible objection to his or her application, give the basis of the objection and identify the agency that brought it. The applicant will have 10 days to respond.
The board's hearings will be recorded and applicants can get hearing transcripts. Commissioners' deliberations, however, will remain exempt from the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act. Denied applicants can still take the matter to court.
“Our work as a Board continues to evolve,” said CCLRB Chairperson Robinzina Bryant. “We believe that these emergency rules will provide a more defined framework on processes and procedures that impact applicants and the public.”
The review board was created as part of the state's concealed carry statute, which was hastily cobbled together after a U.S. appellate court struck down the concealed carry ban in 2012.
“There have been several fixes proposed before, but those fixes didn't get anywhere. We have to wait and see how this plays out,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, which is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit backed by the National Rifle Association. “Some people want to hold people to the fire forever when they've done something improper in their life. If you are not convicted of a crime, then you are innocent. You have to use that standard.”
Others said they were skeptical of the new rules.
“They're trying to do whatever they can to cover themselves up,” said Michael Thomas, a concealed carry applicant and former Air Force reservist who said he has a clean record. His denial and lawsuit were described in a Tribune report. He said he doubts that the changes would help him.
David Thompson, the Washington, D.C. attorney who filed two lawsuits backed by the NRA, said it's unclear if the cases will proceed.
“These new rules are an acknowledgement that the current system is fundamentally, broken, unfair and illegal,” said Thompson, but the rules don't specify if they will apply to currently denied applicants.
Among Thompson's concerns, he said, is the short period of time —10 days—that applicants have to gather rebuttal evidence.
J.D. Obenberger, a lawyer representing some of the denied applicants, said the rules fall short of fixing the board's most serious problems: The heavy representation of law enforcement and the leeway that the board has to consider information beyond applicants' criminal record.
“Whether any applicant gets a hearing is totally by the discretion of a board that is dominated by law enforcement,” Obenberger said. “They assume that every arrest is going to be a good arrest..And that's not true.”