More than 1,000 requests for concealed carry gun permits are pouring in each day in the nation's last state to allow the practice, sparking concerns among some Illinois law enforcement officials that they might fall behind on weeding out applicants with a history of violence.
The Cook County Sheriff's office says it already has identified about 120 applications it plans to contest since the online application process was opened to most state residents Jan. 5. Chicago Police Department officials, locked in a battle to control high-profile gang violence, say they, too, are worried about keeping up with the flood of applications, while downstate sheriff's departments said they might not have the capacity to meet the new law's vetting requirement in the time allowed.
Illinois State Police officials insist a full state review will assure that permits don't land in the hands of those who shouldn't have them. And with 90 days to do the job after the 30-day window closes for local law enforcement agencies to make their objections, the agency has far more time than its counterparts in some other states, including Pennsylvania, where law enforcement has 45 days to investigate, and Wisconsin, where the state has 21 days.
Quad-Cities area sheriffs say they're not worried about getting the job done.
But they say there are still questions on the review process and what role each sheriff's department will have in the Illinois State Police's decision to issue concealed carry gun permits.
Rock Island County Sheriff Jeff Boyd said there have been 213 applicants submitted in Rock Island County.
"We have the ability to object to the submissions," Sheriff Boyd said. "We do not do backgrounds on them. The Illinois State Police do. They ultimately decide if they will be issued or not."
Sheriff Boyd said the system is still new, and therefore, leaves many questions. "We don't really know the protocol," Sheriff Boyd said. "It's an important decision. If nothing else, it familiarizes me with the folks that want to carry.
"At this point, I'm the only one authorized to list objections. But, there will be a wide array (of applicants) in the next few months."
Sheriff Boyd said although the ISP will be the first agency conducting background checks, he doesn't know what the ISP's background checks will entail, saying there are a lot of things that don't make a criminal history.
He said there is an advantage to a local vetting process of the applicants.
"Our jail administrator may recognize someone in and out of jail on domestic battery and they apply," Sheriff Boyd said. "I know they (ISP) have an objection board set up. I don't know what it entails.
"I don't know if we need to go down to Springfield."
Henry County Sheriff Jim Padilla, like Sheriff Boyd, said there are still unknowns in the process.
"We have not had a problem yet with ours," said Henry County Sheriff Jim Padilla. "It's such a mess down there in Springfield, I don't think they're totally prepared yet.
"We've received some applications. Quite a few people have taken (firearms training) classes. We've got one (applicant) right now we're holding onto (to question).
"There's a process we have to go through to do the appeal. We haven't gotten anything back from the state yet. I know it will be time consuming. I'm a strong Second Amendment supporter."
Sheriff Padilla said he is anxious to see how the process works out.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed this is not going to be a major issue," he said. "If it does tie up a person or two, that's something we really can't afford."
Whiteside County Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi said he hasn't seen a list of applicants yet. He said the sheriff's department can go through the list and contest them.
"We'll go through the list," Sheriff Wilhelmi said. "It's not my job to say, "yes" to any, but what we can do as a law enforcement agency is have a say in saying "no." We might know the applicants better than the state.
"They might not have a criminal record, and they might fly under the radar, but they could be a danger to themselves and others."
Mercer County Sheriff Bill Glancey said he hasn't encountered any problems.
State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said that while more than 16,000 applicants have cleared the first hurdle in the application process, the detailed checks are just beginning. She said before anyone receives final approval, the agency will have examined as many as a dozen criminal databases.
"The process is thorough, and the background checks are complete," she said.
About 7,000 applications were received since mid-December, when firearms instructors and some others were allowed start applying. Then, on Jan. 5, the first day the process was opened to everyone else, more than 4,500 applications came in. Since then, Bond says, the agency has been receiving more than 1,000 applications per day.
In Cook County, Smith said "the numbers are so high" that to keep up, the 20-person unit assigned to investigate the applications would have to be tripled in size.
But state Rep. Brandon Phelps, a sponsor of the legislation, said 30 days is long enough for local law enforcement to submit objections to the state panel made up of former prosecutors, judges and others. He also says it isn't necessary to provide additional funds since local law enforcement isn't involved with issuing the permits.
In Sangamon County, Undersheriff Jack Campbell said it's unclear how long it will take to investigate the applications, or whether there could be legal ramifications from taking more than 30 days, which is a distinct possibility.
"We are not going to rush it if that makes us late, we will deal with that," he said. "We will not allow applications to slip through the cracks.
The Associated Press contributed to the article.