By Lee Williams
Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s recent edict, which orders the state police to release the names of every gun owner to the media, is bad policy that could put guns into the hands of criminals, and give them a handy database of unarmed victims.
♦ Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s recent edict is bad policy that could put guns into the hands of criminals, and give them a handy database of unarmed victims.
Madigan’s office recently mediated a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) dispute between the state police and the Associated Press. The AP had sought the names of every Illinoisan who holds a Firearms Owner Identification Card—a much-derided requirement if you want to exercise what’s left of your Second Amendment rights in this state. You can’t so much as buy a box of shotgun shells without one, much less own a gun.
A bit of self-disclosure, I am a FOID card holder and a gun owner.
Madigan’s decision is a straight-up assault on the privacy rights of gun owners, who went along with the FOID card debacle only because they couldn’t legally go to the gun range, the duck blind or the tree stand without one.
There are several issues here, and for gun owners, civil libertarians and those who don’t want to be victims of crime, they’re all scary. The Attorney General’s decision should be viewed as a clear- cut civil rights violation. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms—even in Chicago—just like it guarantees us the right to worship as we please, and the right to publish scathing criticisms of nefarious government actions when we see them.
Now, our privacy is being violated only because we complied with a state law in order to exercise a Constitutionally- protected civil right.
Over the years, gun owners have grumbled, paid their money and submitted to background checks with a clear understanding that their private FOID card information would remain private, but the government is not keeping its word. Does the state need another class-action lawsuit it can’t win?
Open-government experts need time to review the logic of Madigan’s decision, but if the Freedom of Information Act does indeed require the disclosure of personal information of private citizens, who only provided their data to comply with state law, perhaps the law needs to be updated. After all, Illinois lawmakers saw fit to update the FOIA law to shield the performance reviews of state workers from public scrutiny.
More worrisome, however, are the benefits Madigan’s decision will offer criminals, who don’t use a FOID card to get their guns.
One of the millions of lessons I learned during my rookie years as a police officer, was that real residential burglaries have nothing in common with the burglaries depicted on TV.
There’s seldom a bump in the middle of the night, a wife waking her slumbering husband because she heard a suspicious noise downstairs.
Most residential burglars strike during the day, when the homeowner is at work. They’re dressed in business attire, not ninja suits, so they blend into the neighborhood when they’re looking for an unoccupied home. Once found, they kick-in the back door, steal everything that’s not nailed down, pack it into the car in the garage, and drive away.
Now, armed with Madigan’s List, these burglars will be able to specifically target gun owners, and brother, they are going to do very, very well for themselves.
Only OxyContin is easier for criminals to resell than stolen firearms, because every criminal wants a gun, and they can’t get them through legitimate means. For the bad guys, Madigan’s List will be better than a discount shopping mall. It guarantees success, no more dry holes. Those criminals not into burglary, the rapists and other sex offenders, won’t be left out either. They too will experience a boon. If they’re concerned a potential victim may be armed, now they’ll be able to check. Gone are the days when a rapist has to worry that his target might have a pistol in her nightstand, or a shotgun in her closet. If the Attorney General was suddenly overcome by a desire for greater transparency, perhaps, instead of FOID card holders, she should order the state police to release performance reviews of their troopers. If she wants increased scrutiny of state government, let’s start with the judiciary. They’re FOIA-proof, completely unaccountable to open records requests. They are, quite literally, above the law.
There is public data—and we need more of it—but then there’s personal data we provide to the government with the understanding it will remain private. The latter needs to remain protected. If not, who knows how far this could go.
The State of Illinois issues a “Disabled Person ID Card.” I wonder whether someone within the Attorney General’s office is considering releasing the names of every disabled person in the state.
The Attorney General needs to rescind her decision—immediately. Not only does it violate our civil rights, people are going to get hurt.
♦ The Attorney General needs to rescind her decision— immediately. Not only does it violate our civil rights, people are going to get hurt.
Lee Williams, a JPFO member, is an award-winning investigative reporter who has worked at newspapers in two states and a U.S. Territory, and most recently at a free-market think tank in Wilmington, Delaware.
His stories, which have focused on civil rights abuse and government accountability, have earned more than a dozen of the nation’s top journalism awards, including the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Medallion and the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award.
More importantly, his work has resulted in positive change, including multiple investigations by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S Commission on Civil Rights, as well as numerous legislative and criminal probes.
Before becoming a journalist, Lee worked as a police officer and served in the U.S. Army.