After allegedly finding a loaded weapon in the possession of a Crystal Lake attorney during a drunken-driving investigation, police said they made a bigger discovery when they searched the man’s home: a cache of 56 handguns and rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Authorities apparently had not confiscated the weapons earlier from the lawyer, Donald F. Franz, despite the fact that his arrest in January marked the second time in about nine months that he has been accused of carrying a loaded gun in his car after his firearm owner’s identification was revoked, court and police records show. He was arrested late last year and accused of telling an employee of a state agency investigating him, “I am going to kill you,” according to court and agency records.
The allegations against Franz illustrate what critics say is a dangerous gap in Illinois weapons laws: Although Illinois State Police revoked more than 11,000 FOID cards last year, the largest number since at least 2010, those who lose their right to bear arms legally in the state rarely have their guns taken away unless they’re later charged with a crime — and sometimes not even then.
A proposed change would require police to take guns from people who don’t follow the law, but it faces opposition from gun owners, gun rights lobbyists and from law enforcement officials who would have to enforce it. Now backers are looking for a way to make it practical to seize weapons from dangerous offenders without unfairly jeopardizing gun owners’ rights.
Illinoisans have been required since 1968 to have FOID cards in order to buy or own any guns, with exemptions for members of the military and law enforcement.
In general, a FOID card can be denied to or revoked from anyone who has been charged with a felony, convicted of domestic violence, is addicted to narcotics, has been a patient in a mental health facility within the past five years, is intellectually or developmentally disabled or is the subject of a court restraining order. FOID cards may also be revoked if the owner is deemed a clear and present danger to him or herself or others.
But when a FOID card is rescinded, Illinois State Police do not typically go to homes to confiscate that person’s guns. State police Master Sgt. Matt Boerwinkle said the agency doesn’t have the manpower to do that statewide, and rely on local police to follow up. Some local departments check on expired FOID card holders, he said, but many do not.
Instead, state troopers merely send a notice of the revocation to the cardholder and to local police. By law, the person must send a form to state police listing his or her guns and identifying another active FOID holder who will hold the guns during the revocation.
Police may not seize guns from a revoked FOID holder unless the holder fails to submit the form. Failing to do so is a misdemeanor and authorizes police to search for and seize the guns, but officials say that rarely happens unless the person is stopped for some other violation.
In Illinois, more than 2.1 million people have FOID cards, a number that has grown by almost 1 million since 2010, according to state police. Last year, about 11,000 people had their cards revoked, but only about 4,000 of them submitted the required reports stating what they did with their guns, state police said.
A proposed change in the law would have required police to seize guns in such cases, but the bill died last year after gun rights groups objected and police said that they didn’t have enough officers to check on more than 50,000 revoked FOID cards statewide.
State Sen. Julie Morrison, a Democrat from Deerfield, is hoping to revive the proposal this year, and plans to meet with local chiefs of police to see how they can make it happen.
“It’s something we plan to move forward with, with negotiations with police,” she said. “It’s an obvious problem. But it’s a complicated issue.”
It’s not clear when or why Franz, the Crystal Lake attorney, lost his FOID card, as state police said they do not reveal such information.
Crystal Lake police said they found Franz in his car on Jan. 19 after receiving a report of a possibly intoxicated driver. He became “uncooperative and combative,” said police, who reported that they found a loaded gun and ammunition in the vehicle and that Franz, 50, was charged with aggravated DUI and aggravated battery to a police officer. Police obtained a court order to search his home, where they said the collection of weapons and ammunition were discovered and removed.
The allegations followed a similar traffic stop that authorities said involved Franz last April in Chicago. According to police and Cook County court records, Franz was pulled over after disregarding a red light and showed signs of possible intoxication. Police said they found in his car open alcohol containers, empty beer bottles, ammunition, an unloaded gun on the floor and a loaded handgun in the center console, and Franz was charged with DUI and illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition without a valid FOID card, all misdemeanors.
Franz, who is well-known in the legal circles of McHenry County, where his father was a judge, faces other legal and professional problems: The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has opened an investigation into Franz that could lead to a suspension of his professional license, according to agency documents and officials. And in December, he was arrested and charged in Cook County with making “harassing calls and threats” to ARDC officials investigating him, according to court records.
In one case, Franz is accused of leaving a voice mail for an ARDC administrator that said in part, according to the ARDC complaint: “My name is Don Franz. … The day you suspend me, I’m going to stop taking my pills, I’m going to get my affairs in order, I am going to kill you. Have a nice day.”
Franz also faces a charge in Winnebago County of resisting a police officer, according to the state’s attorney’s office there. According to a police report from Cherry Valley, near Rockford, Franz became “belligerent” when police were summoned after he refused to enter a treatment center in November. The Cook and Winnebago cases are pending, records show.
Despite Franz’s multiple encounters with police, authorities did not confiscate the weapons he allegedly possessed illegally until after his January arrest.
At Franz’s court hearing last week in McHenry County, his attorney said Franz was in a substance abuse treatment center. Franz has not entered a plea in the recent charges, which include multiple felonies.
McHenry County is also where, in 2014, a man who had lost his FOID card shot two sheriff’s deputies during a disturbance at his home. One of the deputies, Dwight Maness, later died.
The perpetrator, Scott Peters, had lost his FOID card almost two decades before and it was never reinstated, according to authorities and records. Peters had initially given his weapons to a relative to hold but eventually took them back, including the gun he used to shoot the officers, according to officials and records. He was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 135 years in prison.
In another case, a man without a FOID card was convicted of murder in the Russian roulette-related shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Murray in Elmhurst in 2004. Court records showed that the FOID card of the defendant, Anson Paape, had been revoked following arrests for domestic violence, but he never surrendered his guns to police as he had promised. He is in prison with a 75-year sentence.
Out of concern for such situations, about three years ago, the Cook County sheriff’s office began confiscating the guns of people with revoked FOID cards, Chief Policy Officer Cara Smith said.
Deputies go to the person’s home, explain that possessing guns with a revoked FOID card is a felony and ask for the person’s weapons, Smith said. Most people comply and hand over the weapons, though a relative or friend with a valid FOID card may take the guns instead.
Every gun used in a crime started with a legal sale, but are often then sold on the black market with no record, Smith said.
“I can’t help thinking that our toothless revocation process has contributed to the number of guns that have flooded our streets in Chicago,” she said.
The Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence supports the proposal to seize guns of revoked FOID holders, Executive Director Colleen Daley said. However, there’s no way to guarantee revoked FOID cardholders turn over all of their weapons, because guns aren’t required to be registered in Illinois, Daley said.
“Gun registration is something we’d love to see, but it’s a tough measure to move legislatively,” Daley said. “Essentially, you’re taking someone at their word. You won’t know if someone who doesn’t have a FOID is in violation until they turn around and use their firearms.”
“In an ideal world, someone would remove their FOID card from them and transfer their firearms to someone else or to law enforcement,” she said.
McHenry County Right to Carry Association President Mickey Schuch has called for abolishing the FOID card, noting that Illinois is one of only about five states that require gun owners to be licensed.
Cases of FOID owners committing gun crimes are rare, he said, compared to the many gun crimes committed by people who never had a FOID card.
He opposed blanket proposals to have police seize the weapons of revoked FOID card holders, saying it violated the fundamental concept of innocent until proven guilty for those who have been charged but not convicted. He noted that judges can order weapons seized in criminal cases, depending on the circumstances.
Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said he sees no issue with current procedures. Pearson noted gun owners already can face misdemeanor charges if they don’t comply with orders to surrender their FOID card and transfer their weapons.
“Well, with these people, it’s always a witch hunt for gun owners,” Pearson said of gun critics. “They want the siren screaming and police ramming down your door.”