Perhaps Illinois’ latest sunshine flap, in which citizens are being denied concealed carry permits and FOID cards without explanation, will enlighten more people about the far-reaching perils of government secrecy.
As State Journal-Register reporter Tobias Wall detailed recently, Donn Malwick of Springfield is suing the Illinois State Police because it denied his request for a Firearm Owner’s Identification card and has made no effort to tell him why or offer him a hearing.
Malwick has a unique and somewhat complicated situation. In 1970, when he was 20, he was arrested for trying to cash a forged check. Convicted of felony forgery in 1971, he was sentenced to three months’ probation.
Certainly, he was old enough to understand the repercussions of forging checks, but this was not considered a forcible or violent felony. Gov. Jim Edgar apparently believed Malwick learned his lesson, because in 1999 he pardoned him of that conviction, plus a 1969 theft conviction that also resulted in a sentence of probation.
The pardon essentially wiped Malwick’s record clean.
Last year he applied for a FOID card. The form asks if applicants have been convicted of a felony. Malwick indicated yes because, technically, he had been convicted. The form has no space for additional details, such as a pardon from the governor — something that could signal a legally clean record and that a little extra research by the state police may be required.
So much for truthfulness, though. Malwick’s application was rejected a month later on the grounds of the felony conviction.
In September he appealed the decision and sought a hearing, and provided letters of support from various friends and acquaintances, including Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson.
Nine months later, the state police still hadn’t responded to Malwick’s appeal. Frustrated, he filed suit in June.
A state police spokeswoman wouldn’t comment, other than to tell Wall there is no “statutory mandate for the time period for the response to an appeal.”
That may be technically true, but it’s an unnecessarily cavalier attitude. By that logic, Malwick and others can be left hanging indefinitely. It should have been a relatively simple matter to research his situation and to schedule a hearing.
Instead, the agency opted for secrecy and stalling.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune last week reported the state police has been sued by 194 other Illinoisans who sought concealed carry permits under the state’s new law but were denied for reasons unknown to them because the agency says it isn’t legally required to tell them. The rejected applicants say the secrecy violates their right to due process.
According to the report, about 800 Illinoisans have been denied concealed-carry permits by the state police, which can reject applicants for a variety of reasons, such as failing to pay fees, not following application rules or failing background checks.
But the law also allows the agency to object to an application even after those requirements have been met. The Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board, made up of people with federal, state and local law enforcement backgrounds, reviews the agency’s objections in private, and the state police says the board doesn’t have to explain its reasons unless ordered to do so by a court.
It’s not surprising the notoriously secretive Illinois State Police interpreted the law to mean they and the seven-member review board have the right to operate in complete privacy. The Illinois Press Association and others loudly objected last year upon learning Illinois’ new concealed carry law exempted the board from the state’s Open Meetings and Freedom of Information laws. It doesn’t have to post its meeting times or locations, publish an agenda or minutes, or make any of its records public.
Unfortunately, the public includes gun applicants who are denied without explanation.
The rash of potentially expensive lawsuits against the Illinois State Police is a problem that deserves further attention.
Gov. Pat Quinn should lean on the agency to provide answers to Malwick immediately, and the legislature should re-examine the pitfalls of allowing a state board to operate in total secrecy.
—GateHouse News Service