Tom Kacich: Gun ownership growing in Illinois, fading nationally

Tom Kacich: Gun ownership growing in Illinois, fading nationally

Gun ownership appears to be growing in Illinois at the same time it is declining in the rest of the country.

There are now about 1.5 million holders of Illinois firearms owner's identification cards — the greatest number in the 45-year history of the FOID card law — and a record backlog of applications for cards, according to the state police.

The apparent growth in gun ownership in Illinois, where a FOID card is required to possess or purchase a firearm, comes at the same time that the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago reports the number of households nationally with guns has dropped from about 50 percent in the 1970s to about 34 percent in 2012.

Based on data obtained from the Illinois State Police through a Freedom of Information Act request, about 11.5 percent of Illinoisans have a FOID card.

But there is a broad disparity statewide, based largely on geography and urbanization. In Calhoun County — the third-least populous Illinois county, which is bordered by both the Illinois and Mississippi rivers — about 44 percent of all of residents have a FOID card. In Cook County, the most populous county in the state, about 6.5 percent of all residents have FOID cards.

The FOID card rate in East Central Illinois counties ranges from about 25 percent in DeWitt County to about 11 percent in Champaign County. Rates in other area counties: Vermilion, 17 percent; Piatt, 21.5 percent; Ford, 21.4 percent; Iroquois, 22.4 percent; Douglas, 19.4 percent; Edgar, 19.2 percent; and Coles, 15.6 percent.

The highest percentages of FOID card holders are in southern Illinois and along riverways, such as Calhoun, Pope, Hardin and Gallatin counties. In those counties, more than one-third of all residents have FOID cards.

More urban areas, such as Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Champaign, Rock Island and St. Clair counties, have gun ownership levels of 15 percent or less.

The low rate in Champaign County, said the president of a local gun rights group, is partly attributable to the high number of college and university students. People under 21 can have a FOID card, but they need the written consent of a parent or legal guardian.

"Gun ownership and the gun culture is something that a lot of young people don't think about," said John Boch of Savoy, president of the group Guns Save Life. "It's only after they reach adulthood and get a place of their own, and they recognize that firearms offer protection and entertainment and recreation and all that, that's when they start taking an interest."

By city, Champaign's FOID card rate is 8.7 percent, Urbana's is 8.4 percent, Rantoul's is 12.4 percent and Mahomet's is 29.5 percent.

Other area communities: Tuscola, 27 percent; Monticello, 26 percent; Paxton, 20 percent; Springfield, 19.6 percent; Danville and Mattoon, 19 percent; Decatur, 18.4 percent; Bloomington, 13.67 percent; Charleston, 13.2 percent; and Normal is 8.86 percent.

Boch attributed the larger urban/rural split not to the popularity of hunting and outdoors activities but to cultural differences.

"It's a whole different take on gun ownership in general. People outside of the big cities recognize that guns are a means to protect yourselves until the police arrive," Boch said.

"In the big cities it's: Big Brother is there to take care of you and be a nanny state and tell you how big your sodas can be and tax your cigarettes, and all of that kind of silliness. Outside of the urban dependency culture, people are more self-reliant and prefer self-determination over big government."

He noted the number of hunting licenses sold in Illinois has dropped in recent years.

"People aren't buying these guns to go hunting," Boch said. "People are buying these guns to protect their families from violent offenders."

Since 1968, FOID cards have been required for any Illinois resident to possess or purchase firearms. Identification and background information is checked by the state police as part of the application process; last year 6,368 applications were denied.

As of Jan. 4, there were 1.48 million FOID card holders statewide, according to the state police. Since then, the number of applicants has soared.

"We're receiving over 70,000 applications a month now, so we're probably closer to 1.5 million card holders now and we're still having record months," said Lt. Darrin Clark of the state police.

State police are supposed to issue or deny a card within 30 days of the time the $10 FOID application is received, but the wait is now around 70 days, he said.

"When the system was built in 1968, it wasn't with the idea that we were going to be processing these numbers of FOID applications," Clark said. "For the first month of 2013, we did 61,172 applications. The previous record we received was 39,394 in March of 2012. So as of Jan. 31, we were 70,218 applications in the backlog.

"I'm sure there are various reasons why we've seen an increase. I think people are looking at the fact that concealed carry is on the horizon (in Illinois as a result of a federal court decision) and every bill that is out there, with the exception of a couple, the FOID card is the predicate to get the concealed-carry permit. Then we also have what is going on nationally as a result of what happened in Connecticut. I think that people who have never thought about gun ownership in the past have decided that they need to step off the fence, if you will."

Boch, the gun enthusiast, has a different take.

"People are nervous. They're anxious. They're worried and they're voting with their wallets saying, 'Hey I want to be able to protect my family. I know that a gun is a means to protect my family before the police arrive after call them,'" he said.

Gun owners fear tighter restrictions both nationally and in Illinois, Boch said.

He also disputes the notion, contained in the General Social Survey, that gun ownership is dropping nationally.

"Anybody who tells you that gun owners are declining in other states obviously has an agenda they're pushing," he said. "Ammunition and guns are both scarce right now. Ammunition is almost impossible to find. Magazines are nearly impossible to find. That should be all the empirical evidence anyone needs to see that there is a huge rush on firearms and ammunition nationwide. It's not any different in Illinois than any other state."

Boch, who said he has taught firearms safety and defense training for 15 years, said "I've got registrations this year like I've never had before."

In past years, he said, an average class size would be 15 to 20 students.

"Each and every one of my classes this year has over 40 students," he said.

Gun ownership in Illinois counties

This table shows the percent of residents in each county in Illinois with FOID cards, based on the 2010 Census.

County Percent
Adams County 19.65
Alexander County 19.80
Bond County 26.40
Boone County 19.51
Brown County 25.01
Bureau County 22.55
Calhoun County 44.17
Carroll County 25.94
Cass County 24.51
Champaign County 10.96
Christian County 24.59
Clark County 26.43
Clay County 30.74
Clinton County 24.23
Coles County 15.61
Cook County 6.56
Crawford County 23.93
Cumberland County 28.89
De Witt County 24.84
DeKalb County 13.54
Douglas County 19.44
DuPage County 8.73
Edgar County 19.20
Edwards County 27.47
Effingham County 27.07
Fayette County 27.41
Ford County 21.45
Franklin County 25.39
Fulton County 24.62
Gallatin County 33.32
Greene County 31.23
Grundy County 20.69
Hamilton County 31.04
Hancock County 23.83
Hardin County 33.40
Henderson County 29.14
Henry County 20.17
Iroquois County 22.37
Jackson County 18.73
Jasper County 28.65
Jefferson County 24.33
Jersey County 29.74
Jo Daviess County 20.42
Johnson County 29.60
Kane County 9.31
Kankakee County 15.13
Kendall County 12.85
Knox County 17.90
Lake County 9.08
LaSalle County 17.07
Lawrence County 18.68
Lee County 21.18
Livingston County 19.07
Logan County 19.35
Macon County 17.75
Macoupin County 26.48
Madison County 17.34
Marion County 22.19
Marshall County 26.96
Mason County 25.97
Massac County 22.67
McDonough County 15.68
McHenry County 12.79
McLean County 13.45
Menard County 25.61
Mercer County 25.30
Monroe County 24.73
Montgomery County 22.42
Morgan County 20.06
Moultrie County 21.17
Ogle County 21.67
Peoria County 16.47
Perry County 25.28
Piatt County 21.58
Pike County 26.49
Pope County 35.35
Pulaski County 24.12
Putnam County 23.53
Randolph County 23.82
Richland County 21.03
Rock Island County 12.16
Saline County 22.09
Sangamon County 18.36
Schuyler County 26.33
Scott County 26.50
Shelby County 27.15
St. Clair County 14.97
Stark County 22.52
Stephenson County 16.99
Tazewell County 19.18
Union County 24.76
Vermilion County 17.00
Wabash County 18.82
Warren County 17.17
Washington County 26.13
Wayne County 30.44
White County 23.31
Whiteside County 15.03
Will County 11.20
Williamson County 21.60
Winnebago County 12.71
Woodford County 21.02

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at

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SaintClarence27 wrote on March 13, 2013 at 8:03 am

As a FOID card holder in Champaign County, I don't want Guns Save Life speaking for me. Ever.

serf wrote on March 13, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Here here.  I'll second that motion.

serf wrote on March 13, 2013 at 10:03 pm


Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 10:03 am


yates wrote on March 13, 2013 at 10:03 am

I think old Tom doesn't get around much. Gun stores all throughout the country are experencing the best business since Clinton tried to subvert the second amendment. Gun manufactures can't even begin to keep up with demand thanks to Obama.

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 13, 2013 at 11:03 am

I guess you mean thanks to gun manufacturers and their stooges (the NRA) fear-mongering?

serf wrote on March 13, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Let's try some critical thinking here.  Gun ownership is declining nationwide, but guns and ammo are scarce?  How could that be?  


It's because people like John Boch are 'nervous' and 'anxious' and therefore they are hoarding guns and ammo.  Less people own guns, but a larger portion of those that do own guns are stockpiling them.  

ronaldo wrote on March 14, 2013 at 11:03 am

So, do you think that by making a statement with absolutely no basis or facts to back it up, people will buy it?  OK, it worked for Obama and his low-information voting base, but it's unlikely to work for the average Joe.

Gun sales for new gun owners are SOARING across the U.S. - citizens who have never owned firearms before. 

Check what you overhear at your local coffeehouse - it may, in fact, be incorrect. 

Just google "gun sales up" under news.  I can't explain it any easier than that.

" first-time buyers, including a growing number of women and pensioners, rush to buy weapons before anticipated gun-control laws come into force."

“We have seen a huge, dramatic increase in the number of people becoming firearm owners.”

"It’s not just Viden’s sales figures that point to the dramatic increase in those seeking out guns, whether it’s for home protection, hunting, sport shooting or just in case."

"You get a lot more people in here buying a weapon for defense who have never owned one. A lot of people come in and say, ‘Hey, I’ve never owned a firearm.’ They want to protect themselves and their families" 

"Yet the biggest trend they all see -- one that's mirrored nationwide -- is the bump in women buying guns for the first time."

etc., etc., etc.......


SaintClarence27 wrote on March 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Looks to be all anecdotal. Do you have any actual statistics?

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 11:03 am
Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 10:03 am


Yes and what kind of person goes into a gun store and says "hey you know that gun that guy used to kill all those kids at Newtown...gimme one of those"


thelowedown wrote on March 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm


"In the big cities it's: Big Brother is there to take care of you and be a nanny state and tell you how big your sodas can be and tax your cigarettes, and all of that kind of silliness. Outside of the urban dependency culture, people are more self-reliant and prefer self-determination over big government."

Yes, the dependency culture, like the federal subsidies rural farmers rely on and the fact that on a state basis downstate Illinois is a net tax taker!

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Is taht actually true?

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

That's based on a study that's 26 years old, for one. Secondly, Cook county is a net tax taker as well. Really, given the current deficit, we're all net tax takers. So to pretend like Cook county pays for downstate is really kind of false.

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 9:03 am

Illinois is desperately trying to become Texas where there were 699 gun murders in 2011 that concealed carry couldn't and didn't prevent. They won't stop until it's this easy to buy a gun in Illinois.

The guns criminals carry are not homemade. They were manufactured legally once and the legal chain of custody of those weapons failed along the way or they wouldn't have them. These gaps need to be closed but there are those who incorrectly think that adding more weapons to private possession will close those gaps but it will only add a greater count of illegally possessed weapons as that percentage increases.

"Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." ~Scalia

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

I refuse to quote Scalia, even if it does support my argument.

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

Well OK I don't want to hang out and drink beers with him either but he had the sense to acknowledge that infringment does exist and is necessary to keep these constituional literalists from making decisions that could get us killed. Its the only supreme court we have.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

Scalia does hunt with a gun.  Scalia, and Dick Cheney sat in a duck blind while "hunting".  They did not discuss the vice president's secret energy commission case that was to be decided on by the Supreme Court though according to Scalia.  The Supreme Court decided that the secret energy commission were advisors, and their idenities did not need to be known by the American public.  Scalia did have the good sense to not go quail hunting with Cheney though.

Gun ownership with the owner possessing a FOID card should not be confused with conceal and carry, or gun regulations.  A person downstate may own a handgun, or shotgun; and have them for home defense.  Only the extreme NRA types have assault rifles, and rant for conceal and carry.   

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

I'm assuming the surge in FOID card requests signals people who are poised to apply for CC the minute it becomes available.

Quail hunting LOL Yes I would avoid going hunting with Cheney also although who knows if it was really an accident. The guy he shot was a trial lawyer...

I think a huge problem on the horizon is the capability of making a gun on a 3-D printer and the software downloads that support it.

hd2006 wrote on March 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm


If only the whole state of Texas would take a page out of Chicago's gun control book, they could drop that number from 699 down to 0. Oh wait maybe not!!!

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I would wager this is the larger issue as to why Chicago can't manage it's crime rate rather than the abscence of CC and will continue to be afterward.

yates wrote on March 15, 2013 at 11:03 am

No dog, it's women and other first time owners that fear people like you will make it impossible to defend themselves if your kind get your way.

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 11:03 am

The populous already has over 300,000,000 guns in circulation how many more do you fantasize will make the difference? 100,000,000, 400,000,000? How many? CC didn't save those 699 people in Texas in 2011 and they swear by it down there.

"My Kind" I'm assuming you mean people who put reason first? Yup my kind.

You may be onto something there Yates. Maybe only women should be allowed to conceal carry. I would be OK with that.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm

The conceal and carry crowd are made up of the lower middle class who are more right wing in their politics, and less educated.  They are primarily Caucasian racially. 

Down state residents have possessed guns for years.  The majority of them are FOID card holders; and have pistols, and shotguns for home defense, and hunting.  The majority of them do not have assault rifles.

The fantasy propaganda being whipped up by the NRA, and conspiracy theory lovers has increased fear among some downstaters.  It has produced the "prepper mentality".  The downstaters reacting to the propaganda buy all the assault weapons, and ammunition that they can afford.  They are not the majority.  As they become more obsessed by the propaganda; a minority of them act out by committing crimes.  The creators of the propaganda, the gun manufacturers, and the NRA are the financial beneficiaries of the gun trade.

This is not Chicago.  It is Central Illinois.  There is not going to be a revolution, food shortage, or a natural disaster that has all of the "criminals" in Chicago invading Central Illinois on a rampage.   


KennyG wrote on March 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm

699 Murders in Texas is meaningless to your point.  Texas has over twice the population of Illinois.  If Illinois had the same murder RATE as Texas, there would have only been 345 murders throughout the entire state of Illinois in 2012.  There were over 500 in Chicago alone.  I'm not saying this somehow proves concealed carry works to lower murder rates, but it is also pretty irrelevant to your arguement.  It certainly doesn't help it anyways.

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm

What is irrelevent and unacceptable is your acceptable margin of murder based on populous.

Mine is 0

jack straw wrote on March 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Now that is setting the bar pretty high.  Or low.

KennyG wrote on March 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm

You were comparing a concealed carry state with a non concealed carry state in regards to murder rate, and your reasoning was flawed.  What we want the murder rate to be was not part of your use of those statistics.  I agree with 0, although it has nothing to do with the original discussion.

Bulldogmojo wrote on March 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Since Newtown, the most vocal talking head advocates for unfettered gun ownership, the 2nd amendment literalists who declare that "the answer to gun violence is more guns" and that Concealed Carry is a panacea for solving crime, pridefully hold up Texas as an example of how this works and why Illinois should follow suit. Statistics would declare otherwise and those very real 699 people whose last experiece on earth was the sound of a gun blast in their direction would, in their last second, be 100% in agreement with me that those are NOT the answers to gun crime.

I will in no way embrace the "one person is a tragedy and one million is a statistic" mindset. They all mattered to somebody and we now live in a society where the parents of shooting rampage victims have to bring framed pictures of their children to congressional hearings because otherwise it just isn't real enough for them to take action.

jack straw wrote on March 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Not trying to split hairs here but, the headline makes the claim that gun ownership is fading nationally.  The article reads, in part, "...the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago reports the number of households nationally with guns has dropped from about 50 percent in the 1970s to about 34 percent in 2012."

It may be true that the percentage of households owning guns has dropped by 16%, and I do see the point.  However, according the census data, the number of households in the U.S. in 1970 was 63,500,000, so rounding up, figure about 32 million households had guns in 1970.  In 2010 there were 114,800,000 households, of which 34% is about 39,000,000 households with guns, rounding down.  So today, there are actually more households with guns than there were in 1970.  America!!!

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Well, you (and the article) are also assuming that everyone with a FOID card has a gun, as well as everyone with a gun has a FOID. Neither are true.

jack straw wrote on March 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Well....  I'm sorry what's your point?

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 15, 2013 at 4:03 pm

The statistics provided don't tell us anything -whether there are more gunowners or less.

jack straw wrote on March 17, 2013 at 11:03 am

I guess if you want to just disregard the numbers from the survey that's your prerogative.  I'm really not trying to pick a fight or anything, but you do realize that FOID is an Illinois thing, not a national thing, right?  And the point I was trying to make was about households nationally from the survey numbers, not Illinois.