CHICAGO — More than 40,000 Illinoisans applied for a gun permit in a little more than two weeks this month, more than 500% over this time last year, according to Illinois State Police.
The firearms services bureau of the Illinois State Police is taking an average of 94 business hours -- not counting holidays, weekends, the day the gun is purchased, or the day the sale is approved or denied -- to process background checks, roughly a day longer than usual, according to state police spokeswoman Beth Hundsdorfer.
The bureau is responsible for issuing firearm owner’s identification cards and concealed carry licenses, as well as conducting background checks for licensed gun dealers when a sale is made. Its work started to pick up in March and has spiked in June, Hundsdorfer said.
From June 1 to June 17, there were more than 42,000 applications for FOID cards, compared with about 7,000 during the same time last year, a 501% increase.
The 42,089 applications over those 17 days come close to the 48,194 applications submitted in the months of December, January and February combined. Applications reached nearly 5,000 on a single day in June.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced this week that it will soon start releasing funds from two grant programs aimed at helping small businesses that have suffered losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest that occurred during recent protests over racial injustice.
Gun sales are soaring at Mark Glavin’s gun shop in Elgin, from an average of 10 a day last year to as many as 200 a day this year. With so many gun purchases, he said, ammunition also can be hard to find.
“Take a full glass of coronavirus, shake in a shot of riots and another of this defund police notion, and everything goes crazy,” said Glavin, owner of Fox Valley Shooting Range. “Not to mention the backlog on background checks.”
The mandatory 72-hour background check -- required by the state before getting a gun -- has stretched to more than a week for some of his customers. On Monday, he was still waiting on five backgrounds he submitted on June 16, eight from June 17 and seven from Thursday.
“We know that traditionally there’s an uptick in gun purchases around elections and major tragedies,” said Noam Ostrander, an associate professor of social work at DePaul University who has worked extensively with victims of gun violence and police brutality in Chicago.
“There’s two big predictors of gun ownership -- not sport-type rifle owners -- but among new gun owners usually, and that is perceived risk of victimization and then a belief that the world is a dangerous place,” he continued. “And if we dig into that second one, right, the world does look like a dangerous place right now.”
Take your pick. The pandemic, the police killing of George Floyd, the presidential election. Protests, looting, calls to “defund the police.”
Any one of such similar events historically has been enough to push some people off the fence, prompting them to finally buy a gun or add to their collection.
David Lombardo, owner of Safer USA and a concealed carry gun instructor, said he’s had several callers lately who candidly disclosed their political beliefs and asked him for one-on-one training, because “they don’t want anyone to know they’re doing the training, let alone going to buy a firearm.”
“I have seen the emergence of a new class of students seeking training: anti-Second Amendment liberals,” he said.
Carrie Lightfoot, founder of the popular shooting blog The Well Armed Woman, said there’s nothing hypocritical about changing your views when the world around you is changing. And she’s not surprised women make up a good portion of these new gun buyers.
Women have always understood they are at a disadvantage when it comes to a male aggressor who will likely be taller, heavier and stronger. Now we are “all shaken to our core” by world events, which is why “it is only natural” women are arming themselves, she said.
“I am seeing women come to gun ownership who literally just weeks or months ago were opposed to people owning guns personally,” Lightfoot said. “Sometimes, it is in moments of personal need and through our personal concerns that our life’s context changes.”
Buying a gun is one way of feeling in control, despite the risks and past beliefs, according to Leonard Jason, a professor of community psychology at DePaul University.
“It seems like it’s something you can do and you think that that is going to have an effect on the problem,” he said. “It’s really like a coping strategy. Why do people use unhealthy coping strategies, do things like overeat or smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, use drugs, do things that are not going to help but rather hurt them?
“We often do things that are not rational,” Jason added. “What we think is right and what we think we should do is not often the same.”
The strain is being felt at the 30-person firearms services bureau, where 24 employees process applications for FOID cards and concealed carry permits. Six others work solely on processing background checks required when someone tries to buy a gun.
Nine more employees are scheduled to begin work in July. And the state police intend to hire an additional 20 employees, bringing the total to 59, according to spokeswoman Hundsdorfer.
Even before the recent surge, the state police were facing criticism for delays in processing applications. A lawsuit filed in January accused state police of violating the “fundamental individual rights” of gun owners. The state police acknowledged that at least 10% of applications were taking longer than the legally required 30 days to process.
Then the pandemic hit in March, followed by the fallout from Floyd’s death on May 25. On any given day, about 1,135 new users register on the firearm services bureau website. “On May 31, there were 6,467 new users. On June 1, there were 9,558 new users,” Hundsdorfer said. “On average, the current staff works an extra week in overtime hours every month to address application processing needs.”
The agency also took the unprecedented step of automatically extending for a year all FOID and concealed carry permits up for renewal in 2020, Hundsdorfer said. The goal was to provide “relief from the renewal requirements during the effects of COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
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