Since the State of Illinois passed a controversial Concealed Carry Weapons permit law last year, a flood of African American applicants have found themselves denied even though they are qualified to receive the permits according to the prerequisites of the law. After hundreds of such residents took a firearms training course, paid an array of fees, and submitted fingerprints for a background check that were then ultimately passed, African American applicants have been receiving notices earlier this year that a special review board has denied their applications for concealed carry licenses.
One such example, Michael Thomas was puzzled that as a former Air Force reservist who routinely carried a gun during military service and has never had a run-in with the law, was turned down, even though the law does not afford police the discretion to deny permits to those who meet the prerequisites and who are not legally prohibited. But Thomas is just one of more than 800 people who have been denied licenses by the board. This board meets behind closed doors and keeps its records and reasoning secret. Even when applicants meet all the criteria, the board says they have no obligation to explain themselves… even when it seems clear that the only disqualifying factor is the color of the applicant’s skin.
Thomas wrote to the Illinois State Police, requesting a review of the decision, assuming that it must have been a mistake.
“I have never been arrested or convicted of any offense, either misdemeanor or felony, in the state of Illinois or any other state,” Thomas explained in his letter. “I have no criminal record of any type.”
The state police sent him a letter back, saying that the board’s decisions couldn’t be reviewed. Thomas, they explained would have to petition a court in order to appeal.
So that’s what Thomas did. He joined 193 other Illinoisans – many of whom happen to be African Americans – in filing lawsuits against the state police. Interestingly, few Caucasians who applied for the permit in Illinois have found themselves denied, even when their records are a bit more tarnished (though without felonies), than Thomas’s squeaky-clean background.
Officials still won’t say why Thomas’ application was denied. They won’t say who denied it either, but the lawsuit hopes to shed some light on this apparently racist review board. Some of those who joined the suit are alleging that the state of Illinois only wants to arm Caucasians, but when people of other ethnic backgrounds apply for permits, they often find themselves inexplicably denied.
Thomas’s clean record seems to be corroborated by a search of Cook County court records, where he lives. The database turned up no charges. An Air Force spokesman further reported to the local Tribune that Thomas received and honorable discharged in 2012. They added that his military record contains no unfavorable information.
Lawyers involved in the cases say “There are law-abiding citizens in the state of Illinois who are fully eligible to carry, and they are denied the right and not given any notice as to why,” according to David Thompson, a Washington, D.C., attorney hired to file companion lawsuits in Illinois state court and U.S. District Court. “We want a process established that gives people notice of what evidence the state used to make the determination … and an opportunity to rebut by putting in their own evidence.”
Federal law prohibits convicted felons and convicted domestic abusers from obtaining firearms. Illinois goes even further with their requirements for obtaining a concealed carry permit. So why are Caucasians being given licenses, while African Americans and others with clean records are being turned away?
It makes you wonder.
(Article by Jackson Marciana and Arman B.)