Q: A roommate moved out and left behind some old shotgun shells and other ammunition. I’ve asked him to come get it but he’s never gotten around to it. Is it illegal for me to have it in my house if I don’t have a gun license? If it’s not, how do I get rid of it legally?
A: You need a Firearm Owner’s Identification card to legally possess a firearm or ammunition. Someone with a FOID could take the ammo off your hands, or you can dispose of it at many local police stations. Some gendarmeries will helpfully send an officer to come get it.
Illinois regulates guns and ammo ownership with the Firearm Owners Identification Act. A FOID from the State Police certifies that you’re not (among other things): a felon, an illegal alien, “intellectually defective,” a narcotics addict, or subject to an order of protection that prohibits you from having a firearm. These factors closely track those in the Gun Control Act of 1968, a federal law restricting gun transfers.
A FOID licenses people. Guns aren’t licensed or registered.
After requiring a FOID to possess a firearm, the Illinois law says: “No person may acquire or possess firearm ammunition within this State without having in his or her possession a Firearm Owner's Identification Card previously issued in his or her name.”
Ammunition is “any self-contained cartridge or shotgun shell, by whatever name known, which is designed to be used or adaptable to use in a firearm.” “Explosive bullets” can’t be legally possessed at all.
So, you need a FOID to legally possess bullets or shotgun shells. Illegal possession is a Class A misdemeanor. That’s the last stop in misdemeanors before felony, with maximums of a $2,500 fine and 1 year incarceration.
But, there are safe ways to just get rid of the ammo if you don’t want to keep it. Transfers of ammo to anyone who “displays a currently valid” FOID are legal, and you don’t have to keep any records like you do for firearms transfers.
The Champaign and Urbana police accept drop-offs of unwanted ammo or firearms.
(It’s best, but not necessary, to have someone with a FOID do the dropping-off.) Unless it’s a sizeable arsenal, it’s no questions asked. They said they’ll even come pick it up—especially firearms.
Throwing ammunition away is a bad idea. It can fall into the wrong hands, or create a hazard. Incinerating ammo is apparently less risky than one might expect, but it’s still dangerous.
If your roommate’s the type who could later claim that you owe him for his disposed property, first send him a letter setting a deadline to come get it. Date it, and keep a copy for your records. Then, take pictures of what you’re disposing, to document its possible value.
That may be overkill, but can help prove it was abandoned property when you disposed of it. You—and the rest of the world—can do whatever you want to abandoned property.
- John Roska