The Chicago Journal's Basic Guide to Illinois Gun Laws
18 min read

The Chicago Journal's Basic Guide to Illinois Gun Laws

Even if we're in the significant minority in this city, here at the Chicago Journal we believe in the 2nd Amendment and the individual's right to personal defense.
The Chicago Journal's Basic Guide to Illinois Gun Laws


Even if we're in the significant minority in this city, here at the Chicago Journal we believe in the 2nd Amendment and the individual's right to personal defense. Despite the political leadership in this town and state making it as difficult as possible for its responsible, law-abiding citizens to know and understand this right, there is still a path in this city and this state for firearm ownership.

What we cover in this post, for now, is the basics. It is mostly for the curious and inexperienced to have a step by step walkthrough and a better idea of what to expect. We highly advise anyone to ask licensed and certified professionals the specifics regarding any additional questions or details that may be missing from this guide and we encourage those same professionals to reach out to us to help us fix any innacurate information.

We'll do our best to update this guide periodically, if and when laws change.

We have to start by saying owning a firearm is a serious responsibility and we encourage all firearm owners, both the new and the experienced, to continually seek training, continually review best practices, and be up-to-date on all responsibilities regarding firearm ownership.

We understand that taking the first steps toward firearm ownership can be uncomfortable and overwhelming, but taking these steps for your and your family's personal safety can be both fun and rewarding. We encourage you to follow along below as far as you're comfortable.



0. The 4 Rules of Firearm Safety

We listed this section as "Step Zero" because no one should proceed beyond this point until they know and understand, memorize and be able to recite unprompted, the 4 rules of firearm safety. These rules are known the world over by responsible gun owners, shooting ranges, gun stores, and pretty much any self respecting person in shooting sports. You should know them, too. It's the most important thing you can ever know about guns.

1. Treat ALL guns as if they are always loaded.

Never assume that someone has handed you an unloaded gun. Ever. Not even if you trust them implicitly and have known them your whole life. Always safely inspect the firearm yourself and make sure it's clear before moving on. Never accept into your possession a firearm that you are unfamiliar thinking that you can fiddle with it until you figure it out. You will never be wrong to ask for assistance and a demonstration of safe and correct usage of that firearm. An individual who properly inspects and shows a gun to be clear before further handling is seen as a responsible and knowledgeable participant at the range. It can not be said enough, treat every firearm that you come in contact with as though it could be loaded.

2. Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction. Never let the muzzle cover (point at) anything that you are not willing to destroy.

Situational awareness is critical to firearm safety. Before you make contact with the firearm consider your environment and determine your safe direction. If you are at an indoor or outdoor range and are unsure, ask. It is your responsibility to always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction 100% of the time whether you are setting up in your work area, loading, reloading, shooting, showing clear, or laying the firearm down on the bench. When walking with or transporting a long gun muzzle stays up or down and the firearm is unloaded. If you are unsure about your range’s rules for transportation, casing/uncasing your firearm in respect to muzzle direction, ask.

3. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard and off the trigger until your sights are on target, you have made the decision to shoot, and you are ready to fire.

Trigger discipline is a learned skill but vitally important to safety. From the moment you make physical contact with the firearm, keep your trigger finger straight and rest it along the side of the frame. Through all administrative actions, such as, but not limited to, picking up, loading, reloading, fixing malfunctions, unloading or resting in various ready positions your finger is in this indexed position along the frame. Only when it is appropriate to shoot, your sights are on target, you have made the decision to shoot, and you are ready to fire are you able to move your finger from it’s indexed position onto the trigger.

4. Be sure of your target and what lies beyond.

You are responsible for everything which a round you shoot comes in contact with. Bullets often do not just "stop" at your target. If the round would make an impact through your intended target and impact something other than a bullet safe berm, trap, or safe zone then you are obligated not to take the shot. This means never point or fire ar anything you can’t clearly identify as a target or that would be a danger if your bullet strays, ricochets, or over penetrates.

Again, the above 4 rules are known worldwide and are the most basic expectations of every responsible gun owner.

Memorize them and live them.



1. Get Your FOID Card

To buy a gun or ammunition in the State of Illinois, you need to get a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) Card. This is required for all guns. We have a lot to say about the constitutionality of the Illinois FOID Card requirement but we'll leave that for another piece.

To qualify for a FOID, you must be:

  • 21 years old.
  • A resident of Illinois.

If you are under 21 years of age, you can qualify for a FOID if you have a parent or guardian sponsor your application, as long as the sponsor is also qualified for a FOID.

For those in the military stationed in Illinois, you can get a FOID if you provide:

  • The base where you are deployed while in Illinois.
  • Your military assignment orders.
  • Your military ID.

Sample FOID
A sample FOID card.

Again, we have certain issues with the constitutionality of the Illinois FOID, but since we are law-abiding citizens and this is the law of this land, there are some automatic disqualifiers from getting a FOID. Your FOID application will be denied if you:

  • Have renounced your US citizenship.
  • Are in the US as an illegal alien.
  • Have been convicted of a felony.
  • Are addicted to narcotics.
  • Have been a patient in a mental health facility in the last 5 years.
  • Are intellectually disabled.
  • Are the subject of protection order.
  • Have been convicted in the last 5 years of battery, assault, aggravated assault, violation of an order of protection, or a similar offense in which a firearm was used or in your possession.
  • Have been convicted of domestic battery, aggravated domestic battery, or a similar offense.
  • Are a minor found to be delinquent for an offense that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult.
  • Have been adjudicated as a mentally disabled person.
  • Have been involuntarily admitted into a mental health facility.
  • Are in a mental condition where you pose a clear and present danger to yourself, others, or the community.
  • Are developmentally disabled.
  • Were dishonorably discharged from the US Armed Services.
  • Were convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

If you meet all the requirements, once you've completed and sent in the application, you should have your FOID Card within about 30 days. If you are denied, they should provide the reason for the denial. Typically it’s because some information on the application was missed.

If you want to appeal the decision on a denial of your FOID application, you’ll need to send the appeal to the Director of the Illinois State Police. Provide any missing information or information necessary to fix whatever issue was listed on your application.

Your FOID Card must be renewed every 10 years.

There are situations where a FOID is not required. Of course, you’ll always need a FOID in order to buy a gun, but you may be able to possess and use a firearm in certain situations without a FOID.

A person with a FOID card can loan a gun to a person who does not have a FOID card, as long as the gun is used at the range, and under the supervision of the FOID card owner.

In addition to borrowing a gun at the range, a FOID is not required for:

  • Non-resident hunters during hunting season, if the hunters have a valid non-resident hunting license and are in a permitted hunting area.
  • Non-residents while at a shooting range or firearms show recognized by the Department of State Police.
  • Non-residents who have their firearms unloaded and enclosed in a case.
  • Non-residents who are licensed or registered to possess a firearm in their home state.
  • Resident hunters who are authorized to hunt, and while accompanied by a person with a FOID card, hunts in a permitted area.
  • A person who is qualified for an FOID card and is on a shooting range or participating in a firearms safety and training course, while under the direct supervision of a FOID card holder who is 21 or older.

For children under the age of 18 years old, you do not need to have a FOID in order to use a firearm or ammunition at a shooting range, if you are under the immediate control and supervision of a parent, guardian, or other person acting in the place of a parent, who has a valid FOID.



2. Buying a Firearm

So now that you have the FOID Card, what is involved in actually buying a firearm?

Believe it or not, a lot of potential first time firearm owners freeze up at this step. Especially if they themselves or no one they know has the history and experience around firearms. It's okay. There's a lot that goes into the decision and it can be overwhelming.

We always suggest buying your first firearm from a licensed, local gun store. As you get a little more experienced with the process, private sales can be safe, but the law-abiding private seller is required to check your FOID card to make sure it's valid and they'll have to go through a background check at a local gun store anyway. That's why, for first time purchasers, we highly advise they just buy from a licensed, local gun store to be as comfortable as possible with the process.

To buy a gun, you must:

  • Be 21 years old for handguns, and 18 years old for shotguns or rifles.
  • Provide state ID.
  • Have a background check done by a licensed firearms dealer.
  • Provide a Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID).

Once you have made your selection and are ready to swipe your card or hand over the cash, you won't be able to walk out with the gun right away. For handguns, you'll need to wait 72 hours from the point of purchase before you're allowed to pick it up and take it home. For long guns, you'll need to wait 24 hours from the point of purchase before you're allowed to pick it up and take it home.

Once you’ve gone through the gauntlet of getting the FOID card, buying a long gun isn’t much different from buying a handgun.



3. Buying Ammunition

Remember, a FOID card is not just required for buying and owning firearms but it is also required for buying and owning ammunition. Do not buy ammunition until you have chosen the firearm you're going to purchase and make sure you buy the right caliber ammo for your new firearm.

Yes, your suspicions are correct, there are restrictions in Illinois on the type of ammunition you're allowed to own.

Restricted Ammo in Illinois:

  • Armor piercing ammo.
  • 'Dragon’s breath' shotgun shells.
  • Bolo shells.
  • Flechette shells.
  • Explosive bullets.

You also cannot buy or own any tear gas, tear gas guns, bombs, or any other type of non-lethal liquid gas or similar substance. The exception to this rule are things like pepper spray or mace carried for self-defense.



4. Now what?

We assume you have now picked up your firearm from your licensed, local gun store and you're now a proud supporter of your 2nd Amendment right to defend yourself. Congratulations! Get to the range and practice, practice, practice, and practice!

But, aside from the range, when and where can you use your new gun?

Remember, openly carrying firearms is not allowed in Illinois. Carrying a concealed handgun is allowed (see step 6), but requires a an additional license, over and above the FOID card.

The only times you can carry your firearms without the Concealed Carry permit/license are:

  • In your own home or on your own property.
  • At a shooting range.
  • While hunting, trapping, or fishing, with a valid license.
  • When transporting your firearms, and they are:
    • Broken down in a non-functioning state; or
    • Not immediately accessible (i.e. in the trunk of the car).

Outside of those situations, you’ll need to have a permit to carry your firearms.



5. Using Your Gun

It needs to be said, up front, you never want to use your gun in a real life and death situation. Ever. Use of deadly force is always, always, always the last resort and all attempts within your reasonable power to deescalate any situation should be made. To reiterate what we said up top, owning a firearm is a serious responsibility and we encourage all firearm owners, both the new and the experienced, to continually seek training, continually review best practices, and be up-to-date on all responsibilities regarding firearm ownership.

That being said, if you are ever faced with a deadly threat to yourself or others, even Illinois allows for use of deadly force in self-defense.

  • Castle Doctrine

You may have already heard of "Castle Doctrine." It's quite simple. You can defend yourself with deadly force if you or a loved one is threatened while at home.

To offer a little more nuance, you are justified in using deadly force if you reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to prevent someone from committing a felony in your house, or an assault or violent act against you or another person in your house.

  • Standing your ground

Unlike defending your home, Illinois does not specifically have any laws on using deadly force to defend yourself while out and about. The law does, in general, say that you are justified in using deadly force to defend yourself if necessary. It will be up to you to decide if it is better to use deadly force or to run away if you face a threat while outside of your home.

Of course, even with all these laws on self-defense, you should always use your best judgement to decide what type of force is appropriate. Just because you are allowed to use deadly force doesn’t mean you have to. Taking any life is always a serious decision, and may not always be necessary in order to end a threat to you and your loved ones.



6. Concealed Carry

Even some of the most experienced firearm owners do not take the next steps into getting their concealed carry license. The decision to carry a firearm is a decision and responsibility that no one should take lightly. We encourage all to spend some time thinking about if this decision is right for them, before they do so.

We also encourage everyone to review the law as it is written. The Illinois Firearm Concealed Carry Act can be found here:

https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=3497&ChapterID=39

If you choose to do so, keep reading.


Sample Illinois CCL
A sample Illinois CCL.

In order to apply for a concealed carry license in the state of Illinois, you must provide/include the following:

  • 16 hours of Concealed Carry firearms training provided by an Illinois State Police approved Instructor.
  • Proof of certification by a certified instructor that the applicant passed a live-fire exercise with a concealable firearm consisting of:
    • A minimum of 30 rounds and
    • 10 rounds from a distance of 5 yards, 10 rounds from a distance of 7 yards, and 10 rounds from a distance of 10 yards at a target approved by the Department of State Police.
  • Electronic Copy of your training certificate(s). You will be required to upload your electronic certificate during the application process.
  • An Illinois Digital I.D. (Visit the Illinois Digital ID website to obtain a digital ID.)
  • A Valid Driver’s License or State Identification card.
  • A valid FOID card.
  • A head and shoulder electronic photograph taken within the last 30 days.
  • Be able to provide the last ten years of residency.
  • $150.00 payable with a credit card or electronic check.

The state of Illinois has 120 days to issue an approval or denial of a concealed carry license.

NOTE: Visit the Illinois Digital ID website FAQ page or call the Central Management Services Help Desk at 1-866-465-9119 for assistance with the Digital ID. Questions regarding the Concealed Carry License application process should be directed to the Illinois State Police at 217-782-7980.

Electronic fingerprints will expedite your application. Applicants will be assigned a transaction control number (TCN) at the time of fingerprinting and will be required to retain that TCN to complete the application.



7. Where Can You Carry?

This is where the concealed carry license gets a little more complicated. There are many questions regarding where a person can carry, and we encourage you to direct any unanswered questions to the Illinois State Police at 217-782-7980.

We'll provide two lists below, where you can't and where you can carry, followed by some additional questions.

In the following list places you can NOT carry a firearm in the state of Illinois.

  • Public or private elementary or secondary school.
  • Pre-school or child care facility.
  • Any building, parking area, or portion of a building under the control of an officer of the executive or legislative branch of government.
  • Circuit court, appellate court, or the Supreme Court.
  • Any building or portion of a building under the control of a unit of local government.
  • Adult or juvenile detention or correctional institution, prison, or jail.
  • Public or private hospital or hospital affiliate, mental health facility, or nursing home.
  • Public bus, train, or form of transportation paid for with public funds.
  • Establishment that serves alcohol on its premises, if more than 50% of the establishment’s gross receipts within the prior 3 months is from the sale of alcohol.
  • Any public gathering or special event conducted on property open to the public
    Any building or real property that has been issued a Special Event Retailer’s license.
  • Public playground.
  • Public park, athletic area, or athletic facility.
  • Property under the control of the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
  • Any building, classroom, laboratory, medical clinic, hospital, artistic venue, athletic venue, entertainment venue, officially recognized university-related organization property, including parking areas, sidewalks, and common areas under the control of a public or private community college, or university.
  • Gaming facility licensed under the Riverboat Gambling Act or the Illinois Horse Racing Act of 1975, including an inter-track wagering location.
  • Any stadium, arena, or the real property or parking area under the control of a stadium, arena, or any collegiate or professional sporting event.
  • Public library.
  • Airport.
  • Amusement park.
  • Zoo or museum.
  • Any street, driveway, parking area, property, building, or facility, owned, leased, controlled, or used by a nuclear energy, storage, weapons, or development site or facility regulated by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • Any place where the carrying of firearms is prohibited by Federal Law.

We know, the list is extensive. The better question in Illinois often becomes, where CAN you carry?

In the following list places you CAN carry a firearm in the state of Illinois.

  • State parks – see below.
  • State and national forests.
  • Vehicle – see below.
  • All areas of the state not listed as off-limits.

Can you carry a concealed handgun in a vehicle in Illinois?

Yes, you can concealed carry with a permit for residents. Open carry in a vehicle is illegal in Illinois.

Non-residents may transport a loaded, concealed handgun in a vehicle if they are in possession of a valid CCW permit from their home state. Non-residents from states that allow for either concealed and/or open carry without a license are not required to produce a license provided they are;

  • Not prohibited under federal law; and
  • They are eligible to carry in their home state.

If non-residents leave their vehicles unattended, they must store the firearm within a locked vehicle or locked container within the vehicle. The firearm (and any ammunition):

  • Must be stored out of plain view within the vehicle; and
  • May be carried in the immediate area surrounding the vehicle only for the limited purpose of storing or retrieving a firearm within the vehicle's trunk.

Can you carry a concealed firearm at roadside rest areas in Illinois?

No. You may not carry a concealed handgun at a roadside rest area in Illinois.

Can you carry a concealed firearm in state/national parks, state/national forests and Wildlife Management Areas in Illinois?

Yes, but only with an Illinois CCL. Illinois CCL holder can not carry in posted buildings, can not carry in IDNR State Refuge areas, can not carry in IDNR Dedicated Nature Preserves, and can not carry in IDNR children playground areas.

Can you carry a firearm in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol in Illinois?

You may not concealed carry in any building, real property, or parking area under the control of an establishment that serves alcohol on its premises, if more than 50% of the establishment's gross receipts within the prior 3 months is from the sale of alcohol.

Can you carry or possess a firearm on hotel property in Illinois?

Per the Illinois State Police, assuming no local ordinance applies and the hotel isn’t posted, firearms can be possessed in hotels, provided the firearm is carried into the room unloaded and enclosed in a case. The individual hotel should be contacted to inquire about it's concealed carry policy.

Does Illinois have laws relating to storing firearms in private vehicles in an employee parking lot?

Any licensee prohibited from carrying a concealed firearm into the parking area of a prohibited location shall be permitted to carry a concealed firearm on or about his or her person within a vehicle into the parking area and may store a firearm or ammunition concealed in a case within a locked vehicle or locked container out of plain view within the vehicle in the parking area. A licensee may carry a concealed firearm in the immediate area surrounding his or her vehicle within a prohibited parking lot area only for the limited purpose of storing or retrieving a firearm within the vehicle's trunk. For purposes of this subsection, "case" includes a glove compartment or console that completely encloses the concealed firearm or ammunition, the trunk of the vehicle, or a firearm carrying box, shipping box, or other container.

Anyone with an FOID card can have a firearm that is not immediately accessible or unloaded and enclosed in a case, firearm carrying box, shipping box, or other container in a vehicle.

Are you required to notify a police officer that you're carrying a concealed firearm in Illinois?

No. You have no duty to reveal that you are carrying a concealed weapon unless the officer asks. However, we highly, highly, highly advise you to inform any officer who asks that you are concealed carrying. It's just not worth a misunderstanding.



8. Additional Frequently Asked Questions

Does Illinois have magazine capacity restrictions for handguns?

No. Although local municipalities imposed magazine limits in the past, the state now has preemption for all handgun laws and has no magazine limits.

Are "No Weapons Allowed" signs enforced in Illinois?

Yes.

Signs stating that the carrying of firearms is prohibited shall be clearly and conspicuously posted at the entrance of a building, premises or real property specified as a prohibited area, unless the building or premises is a private residence. The sign shall provide persons entering the property notice that they are entering a prohibited area in which, pursuant to the act, they shall not carry a concealed firearm. Signs shall be of a uniform design as established by the Illinois State Police Department and shall be 4" by 6" in size.


Sample No Firearms Notice
Here is a sample 'No Firearms' sign from the state.

Except as otherwise provided, a licensee in violation of this Act shall be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor. A second or subsequent violation is a Class A misdemeanor. The department may suspend a license for up to 6 months for a second violation and shall permanently revoke a license for 3 or more violations of Section 65 of this Act. Any person convicted of a violation under this Section shall pay a $150 fee to be deposited into the Mental Health Reporting Fund, plus any applicable court costs or fees.

Does Illinois have preemption laws related to concealed carry (i.e. Does state law supersede local laws regarding the possession of handguns)?

Yes. The regulation, licensing, possession, registration, and transportation of handguns and ammunition for handguns by concealed handgun licensees are exclusive powers and functions of the State. Any ordinance or regulation, or portion thereof that purports to impose regulations or restrictions on licensees or handguns and ammunition for handguns shall be invalid in its application to licensees.

Local municipalities can regulate:

  • Individuals who do not possess a valid FOID card or CCL;
  • Firearms other than handguns; and
  • Matters related to the sale, purchase, and storage of all firearms.

Does Illinois have a red flag law?

Yes. An immediate family member of a person or a law enforcement officer may file a petition prohibiting and enjoining a named person from having in his or her custody or control, purchasing, possessing, or receiving any firearms.

Does Illinois state law define brandishing?

No. However, a person commits intimidation when, with intent to cause another to perform or to omit the performance of any act, he or she communicates to another, directly or indirectly by any means, a threat to inflict physical harm on the person threatened or any other person or on property.

Does Illinois have laws regarding carrying a firearm while using alcohol or drugs?

The laws are similar to DUI laws. You may not carry a firearm while under the influence of alcohol, other drug or drugs, intoxicating compound or combination of compounds, or any combination thereof, under the standards set forth in § 11-501(a) of the Illinois Vehicle Code.

Others have said it better than us but as a responsibly armed American, regardless of the laws of the state, it is unwise to carry while under the influence of any substance that could impair your judgement, slow your reaction times, or impact your decision-making abilities. Any decision you make while carrying a firearm could have life-altering consequences.



We're going to close this post with, you guessed it, a repeat of the top and the 4 Rules of Firearm Safety.

1. Treat ALL guns as if they are always loaded.
2. Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction. Never let the muzzle cover (point at) anything that you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard and off the trigger until your sights are on target, you have made the decision to shoot, and you are ready to fire.
4. Be sure of your target and what lies beyond.

We also want to reiterate that owning a firearm is a serious responsibility and we encourage all firearm owners, both the new and the experienced, to continually seek training, continually review best practices, and be up-to-date on all responsibilities regarding firearm ownership. Again, firearm ownership can be a lot of fun and very rewarding for you and your family.

Happy shooting!

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