News Local/State

Gun Ownership Case Asks IL Supreme Court: Can A Convict Ever Own A Gun?



The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could determine whether a person convicted of battery can still own a gun.

The plaintiff is Shawna Johnson, a southern Illinois woman, who had her Firearm Owner I-D -- or FOID -- card revoked by the state police, and she’s suing to get it back.

Johnson was convicted of beating her then-husband in 2001, and that domestic violence conviction meant she could no longer own a gun. But only when she tried to buy one in Indiana 11 years later did she have her FOID card taken away. An Illinois court in Wabash County found the Illinois State Police had done that inappropriately and ordered Johnson be issued a new card.

In doing so, the court found Johnson ought to have her FOID card reinstated since her domestic violence sentence had already been carried out. Court proceedings there also determined Johnson's then-husband had abused her, and that the public "would not be in any increased danger" if she owned a gun.

Katelin Buell with the Illinois Attorney General’s office, pushed back on those findings, arguing Johnson cannot own a gun, no matter the circumstances.

“It’s actually very inappropriate for courts to consider the passage of time since convictions or the lack of recidivism," she told the High Court Tuesday.

Buell said the state’s hands are tied by federal law, which bans Johnson from owning guns because of her domestic violence conviction. In order to have that ban reversed, she argued, Johnson would have to resolve the issue with the federal justice system.

Johnson’s lawyer, David Jensen, argued she’s being unconstitutionally banned for life from owning guns because of a single mistake. He pointed to Illinois’ FOID law, which already offers certain exceptions for ex-convicts who want to be able to own guns again.

"My client could have murdered ten people, waited 20 years after her release from confinement, and at least had the ability to both get a FOID card back, and do so in a way that everyone agrees would satisfy federal law," he told the justices.

The outcome of the case will be "as-applied," meaning it will only affect Johnson's FOID card status. But a ruling in her favor could mean Illinois gun owners convicted of a crime might be able to more easily get their ownership rights restored if they meet certain requirements.

Follow Sam Dunklau on Twitter: @SamDunklau