The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," ran in the Champaign News Gazette.
Can I get a gun license if I have a criminal record?
Officially, you’re talking about a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card. It’s issued by the Illinois State Police. You have to have one to legally possess a firearm or ammunition in Illinois.
Without simplifying too much, 3 kinds of criminal records bar you from getting a FOID card: (1) any kind of felony conviction, (2) any kind of domestic violence conviction, or (3) any conviction within the last 5 years for battery or assault with a firearm.
A FOID card licenses the gun owner, or user. Guns themselves are not licensed or registered at all.
Both federal and state law regulate gun ownership. The Illinois law requiring a FOID card dates back to 1967, even before the 1968 federal Gun Control Act that was passed just after Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were murdered.
In addition to prohibiting mail-order firearm sales, the federal law specified certain characteristics the disqualify you for gun ownership. Today, that federal law lists 9 things that prohibit you from having a gun. The Illinois law lists those 9, plus 7 more.
Two of the 9 federal prohibitions deal with criminal records. They make it a federal crime for anyone with any kind of felony, or any misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence, to possess a firearm or ammunition.
In addition, federal law makes it a crime to have a gun if someone has an order of protection against you that specifically prohibits you from having a gun.
Violating the federal law can result in fines, and up to 10 years in prison.
Illinois law says it’s a crime—misdemeanor or felony, depending on your circumstances—to possess a firearm or ammunition without a FOID card. It then sets out what you must be, or can’t be, to get a card. You must be an Illinois resident, and at least 21. (If you’re under 21, you need written consent from a parent or legal guardian, who themselves must be eligible for a FOID card.)
Illinois follows federal law by saying you can’t get a FOID card if you have any kind of felony conviction, or any kind of domestic violence conviction. Illinois also follows federal law by saying you can’t get a card if you’re subject to an order of protection that specifically prohibits having guns.
Illinois specifies you can’t get a FOID card if you had a juvenile offense that’s a felony equivalent. In addition, Illinois says you can’t get a card if you’ve been convicted in the last 5 years for battery, assault, aggravated assault, or violation of an order of protection, “in which a firearm was used or possessed.”
And, if you’re under 21, you can’t get a FOID card, even with the permission of a parent or guardian, if you’ve been convicted of any “misdemeanor other than a traffic offense or adjudged delinquent.”
There are many other things you can’t be—for example, a drug addict, and intellectually or developmentally disabled. But criminal record-wise, it basically boils down to those 3 kinds of convictions that make you ineligible for gun ownership or use.