The Illinois Supreme Court recently reached a decision in Evans v Cook County State’s Attorney, holding that the Illinois state firearm restoration process, underlined in Section 10(c) of the Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) Act, is capable of restoring a petitioner’s firearm rights under both state and federal law. The decision comes as a relief to many waiting in limbo to see whether they could effectively restore their firearm rights under Section 10(c) of the FOID Act. The Cook County State’s Attorney, as of recently, attempted to cast doubt on the process, claiming that granting such relief would be contrary to federal law if the person was banned under federal law from possessing a firearm.
To better understand the Evans case, a brief overview of the facts follow. Mr. Evans was convicted of two felonies in 1994. In 2018, he applied to the Illinois State Police (ISP) for a FOID card and was denied. The ISP explained that he was not eligible to obtain a FOID card due to his felony convictions. Mr. Evans then filed a complaint in the circuit court to have his firearm rights restored pursuant to Section 10(c) of the FOID Act.
Under Section 10(c) of the FOID Act, relief is granted if it is established that (1) a petitioner has not been convicted of a forcible felony in Illinois or any other state within 20 years of their application for a FOID Card, or that at least 20 years have passed since they were released from prison for such a conviction; (2) the circumstances regarding a petitioner’s criminal conviction, their criminal history, and their reputation support the fact that they would not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety if their firearm rights are restored; (3) granting relief would not be contrary to public interest and (4) granting relief would not be contrary to federal law.
The Cook County State Attorney opposed Mr. Evan’s petition on the ground that 1) federal law barred him from obtaining a FOID card and 2) he had not met his burden of showing that issuing him a FOID card would not be contrary to public interest. The circuit court agreed with the Cook County State Attorney, and Mr. Evans appealed the decision. The appellate court unfortunately affirmed the circuit court’s decision, finding that federal law prohibited Mr. Evans from possessing a firearm.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s argument was based on the fact that if a petitioner were banned under federal law from possessing firearms, the relief would not be available to them because Section 10(c) clearly states that relief could be granted only if it is not contrary to federal law. However, the Illinois Supreme Court found that such a conclusion would be absurd, given that the legislature clearly intended for those banned to be able to obtain relief. It explained that if the language of the statute were to be interpreted in such a manner, it would not be effective at lifting the firearm rights ban and would be essentially useless for the petitioner.
In determining whether granting Mr. Evans a FOID card would be contrary to federal law, the Court also referenced its reasoning established in a recent decision that raised a similar issue, Johnson v. Department of State Police, 2020 IL 124213. In Johnson, the Court found that firearm rights are civil rights. It explained that the Gun Control Act defines that a conviction is determined in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the proceedings are held. Further, any conviction which has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of the chapter. 18 USC § 921(A)(20). In the case of Evans, the petitioner’s right to vote, hold office and serve on a jury had been restored by operation of law. Pursuant to Johnson, firearm rights are civil rights. Petitioner lost those rights, but as Johnson held, Illinois provided a mechanism to restore those rights. If a petitioner could satisfy the criteria of Section 10 (c)(1)-(3), then he would have his civil right to own a firearm restored. Thus, the Illinois Supreme Court found that providing relief under Section 10 (c) of the FOID Act to a petitioner with a felony is not contrary to federal law, unless they are otherwise banned under federal law for any other reason.
While the Illinois Supreme Court found that federal law did not bar Mr. Evans from obtaining a FOID Card, it agreed with the circuit court’s decision that Mr. Evans had not met his burden in showing that issuing him a FOID card would not be contrary to public interest. Before being submitted to the Illinois Supreme Court, the circuit court provided a written order explaining why Mr. Evans had not met his burden. It listed that he did not provide the circumstances of his felony convictions, he did not offer specifics as to how he would be a responsible firearm owner, and he did not explain his rehabilitation sufficiently. It is clear that these are subject areas that future petitioners must address specifically in order to better their chances of success.
Overall, the decision clears up the confusion as to the effectiveness and meaning of Section 10(c) of the FOID Act and provides petitioners with a clear avenue of relief if they meet the requirements. It is of significant importance as the right to bear arms is a cherished right for many, and the opportunity to restore those rights is now securely available to those who wish to petition for restoration in Illinois. Please contact us at (877) 573-7273 or take our free eligibility test if you would like to restore your rights in Illinois so that we may assist you in the petition process.