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The more rural, the more guns

County-by-county cardholder numbers released

ROCK FALLS – A 1968 state law requires people to get a firearms owner identification card before they buy guns.

Rock Falls gun dealer Ken Rigler is fine with the law, although he said states without it seem to get along.

“It’s a hassle,” he said, “but I see nothing wrong with it.”

Sauk Valley Media recently obtained county-by-county numbers of people holding firearms owner identification, or FOID, cards. The state police, which issues the cards, hadn’t released the information before.

Of Illinois’ 102 counties, Cook County has the lowest percentage of cardholders – 6.8 percent.

The highest percentage – 44.8 percent – is in rural Calhoun County, along the Mississippi River north of St. Louis.

In the Sauk Valley, Whiteside County, the most urbanized in the area, has the lowest percentage of FOID card holders – 15.5 percent. Carroll County, the most rural, is Sauk Valley’s highest at 26.4 percent. Lee County is at 21.8 percent, Ogle County at 22.5 percent, and Bureau County at 23.3 percent.

Higher rates are found in southern Illinois.

The collar counties have greater percentages of gun owners than Cook County, but not as high as much of the rest of the state. DuPage County is the lowest among the collar counties at 9.1 percent. McHenry County, with the smallest population among the collar counties, has the highest rate – 13.5 percent.

Across Illinois, 11.9 percent of residents are cardholders.

In January, Sauk Valley Media issued a Freedom of Information Act request for the numbers. Last month, the state police denied the request, saying no such document was available.

When SVM inquired further, state police spokesman Steve Lyddon consulted with an agency task force that deals with such issues. Members said the information was available and released it soon afterward.

A couple of years ago, Illinois legislators amended the Freedom of Information Act to prohibit the release of names and other information about FOID cardholders. But the state can release general information, such as county-by-county numbers.

In an interview, Rigler, owner of Rigler’s Sports Supply, said he had no reason to doubt the state numbers. He said he gets plenty of customers from around the area. For instance, he said, the shop gets a lot of business from Walnut, a Bureau County town 20 miles away.

He said he wasn’t surprised that the percentages were higher in southern Illinois. In those areas, he said, participation in shooting competition almost doubles.

‘Most of my friends either hunt or shoot’

Under Illinois law, federally licensed firearms dealers must call the state police to verify that a buyer’s FOID card is valid. Applicants are turned down for FOID cards if they have been, within the last 5 years, subject to orders of protection, convicted of felonies or acts of domestic violence, convicted of assault or battery, or a patient in a mental institution.

Also, the state denies FOID cards for undocumented immigrants and those adjudicated as mental “defectives.”

Rigler said he had rarely seen a FOID cardholder turned down.

“They won’t come in here if they’re going to get rejected,” he said.

Greg Cavanaugh, a 64-year-old Dixon resident, said nearly 100 percent of the people he knows own guns.

“Most of my friends either hunt or shoot,” said Cavanaugh, who developed an interest in guns as a boy, although his father wasn’t a firearms owner. “A fair amount of women, including my daughter and my wife, have either had FOID cards or have them now. More and more women are going to get FOID cards.”

Women, he said, are warming up to the idea of gun ownership for self-protection.

“At one time, fathers didn’t take their daughters out hunting,” Cavanaugh said. “Now, they are.”

‘Urban lifestyle different from rural lifestyle’

Kate Williamson, a programs director with the Illinois Council on Handgun Violence in Chicago, said she wasn’t surprised about the numbers from the state police, which she hadn’t seen. Many people in Chicago and Rockford, she asserted, are not acquiring their guns legally, thereby avoiding federally licensed dealers.

“Population density has a lot to do with these numbers,” she said. “In rural areas, there is a hunting culture. There is no hunting in downtown Chicago or Rockford. We have this culture in our country of taming the West.”

People in the country, Williamson said, need guns to protect themselves because the police may not get to their houses on time. “The urban lifestyle is different from the rural lifestyle,” she said.

Chicago’s ban on handguns, struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court a few years ago, might help to explain the low percentage of gun ownership in Cook County, she said.

The Council on Handgun Violence is fine with people owning guns for protection and hunting, a Second Amendment right, Williamson said. But she added that so much violence was preventable.

“That’s what we’re focused on.”

Active FOID card by counties

Breakdown of the number of Illinois firearm owners identification – FOID – cardholders in each county and their proportion of the local population:

County Number of Cardholders Percentage of population

Adams 13,635 20.3%

Alexander 1,657 20.1%

Bond 4,805 27.0%

Boone 10,895 20.1%

Brown 1,770 25.5%

Bureau 8,145 23.3%

Calhoun 2,281 44.8%

Carroll 4,069 26.4%

Cass 3,370 24.7%

Champaign 22,823 11.4%

Christian 8,851 25.4%

Clark 4,449 27.2%

Clay 4,376 31.7%

Clinton 9,357 24.8%

Coles 8,864 16.4%

Cook 352,093 6.8%

Crawford 4,843 24.4%

Cumberland 3,308 29.9%

DeKalb 14,765 14.0%

DeWitt 4,267 25.7%

Douglas 4,107 20.5%

DuPage 88,835 9.1%

Edgar 3,720 20.0%

Edwards 1,904 28.3%

Effingham 9,565 28.0%

Fayette 6,187 27.9%

Ford 3,143 22.3%

Franklin 10,270 26.0%

Fulton 9,295 25.0%

Gallatin 1,891 33.8%

Greene 4,410 31.8%

Grundy 10,710 21.4%

Hamilton 2,680 31.7%

Hancock 4,633 24.2%

Hardin 1,445 33.4%

Henderson 2,184 29.8%

Henry 10,529 20.9%

Iroquis 6,882 23.2%

Jackson 11,578 19.2%

Jasper 2,872 29.6%

Jefferson 9,742 25.1%

Jersey 6,998 30.4%

Jo Daviess 4,695 20.7%

Johnson 3,797 30.2%

Kane 50,080 9.7%

Kankakee 17,978 15.8%

Kendall 15,526 13.5%

Knox 9,748 18.4%

Lake 66,624 9.5%

LaSalle 20,163 17.7%

Lawrence 3,252 19.3%

Lee 7,848 21.8%

Livingston 7,735 19.9%

Logan 6,032 19.9%

McDonough 5,220 16.0%

McHenry 41,526 13.5%

McLean 24,027 14.1%

Macon 20,508 18.5%

Macoupin 12,903 26.0%

Madison 48,458 18.0%

Marion 9,055 23.0%

Marshall 3,505 27.7%

Mason 3,903 26.6%

Massac 3,598 23.3%

Menard 3,349 26.4%

Mercer 4,257 26.0%

Monroe 8,415 25.8%

Montgomery 6,920 23.0%

Morgan 7,250 20.4%

Moultrie 3,281 22.1%

Ogle 12,028 22.5%

Peoria 31,843 17.0%

Perry 5,770 25.8%

Piatt 3,732 22.3%

Pike 4,449 27.0%

Pope 1,602 35.8%

Pulaski 1,528 24.8%

Putnam 1,458 24.3%

Randolph 8,122 24.3%

Richland 3,516 21.7%

Rock Island 18,638 12.6%

St. Clair 41,915 15.5%

Saline 5,634 22.6%

Sangamon 37,336 18.9%

Schuyler 2,024 26.9%

Scott 1,444 27.0%

Shelby 6,296 28.1%

Stark 1,395 23.2%

Stephenson 8,300 17.3%

Tazewell 27,167 20.0%

Union 4,478 25.1%

Vermilion 14,448 17.7%

Wabash 2,299 19.2%

Warren 3,108 17.5%

Washington 3,959 26.9%

Wayne 5,218 31.1%

White 3,530 24.1%

Whiteside 9,074 15.5%

Will 79,717 11.8%

Williamson 14,751 22.2%

Winnebago 39,248 13.3%

Woodford 8,623 22.3%

Illinois 1,530,442 11.9%

Source: Illinois State Police; Sauk Valley Media calculated the percentages using the 2010 census numbers for counties.

A quick look

Here is a look at Sauk Valley counties' percentages of firearms owners identification cardholders in the population:

County Percentage of cardholders in population

Bureau 23.3%

Carroll 26.4%

Lee 21.8%

Ogle 22.5%

Whiteside 15.5%

Highest in state

Calhoun 44.8%

Lowest in state

Cook 6.8%

Source: Illinois State Police; Sauk Valley Media calculated the percentages using the 2010 census numbers for counties.  

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