Some Illinois gun dealers say the lack of guidelines governing them under a new state law that requires them to obtain a state license and implement a variety of security procedures is driving them out of business or across state lines.
Todd Vandermyde is the executive director of the Federal Firearm Licensees of Illinois. He said about half of the state’s 2,400 federally-licensed dealers haven’t registered with the Illinois State Police for the new $1,500 license for retail locations mandated under the Firearm License Dealer Certification Act signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in January.
He said many of those 1,200 shops still unlicensed across the state have moved out of the Land of Lincoln or called it quits altogether, rather than continue to grapple with a regulatory process they find infuriating and expensive. Federal licenses from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives cost just $300, with a $90 renewal fee every three years.
The law gave Illinois gun dealers six months after passage to obtain a state license. The law also required the state to develop and implement various rules around the new regulations pertaining to gun dealers.
But Vandermyde said the state still hasn’t published its list of rules governing gun dealers under the new law. The deadline to apply was earlier this month.
“It would be helpful for us to see the actual rules we’re supposed to live under. Here we are. This was signed into law over six months ago. Yet we still haven’t seen the first iteration of rules published for us to comment on. How do you supposed to operate a business with the threat of felony prosecutions, with the fact that they may take your livelihood away or the business away, and they haven’t even published the rules? How is that supposed to work?" he asked.
Under the law, someone who continues to sell guns under a suspended state license could be charged with a class 4 felony if they are caught violating the law multiple times. The first time offense is a Class A misdemeanor. They would also be liable for a slate of fines ranging from $2,500 to $5,000.
State Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison) was the main sponsor behind the legislation. She said she shares the concerns of gun dealers across the state. She said the rules should be in place by now, but implementation is up to the Illinois State Police, which ultimately operates under the purview of the executive branch.
"We thought we had the correct timing in there for it. Our intention with this is not to aggravate or frustrate the gun shops," she said.
Willis said she believes 90 percent of the state's gun shops are probably already in compliance with the standards set forth in the Firearm License Dealer Certification Act. She said the intention of the law was to increase oversight and weed out the minority of "unsavory" gun dealerships not following best practices.
In a statement, Pritzker press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said the administration is working to implement the law smoothly.
"The Firearm Dealer License Certification Act is a bipartisan law that helps to reduce gun violence, prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands, deter straw purchases and license gun shops just like restaurants and other businesses. The governor is very focused on protecting residents across the state, and the administration is working to ensure a smooth implementation of the law," she said.
The Illinois State Police said it is still working to finalize rules before sharing them with the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) for public comment. A timeline for when those rules are expected to be introduced was not included in an e-mailed response.
The ISP also e-mailed this statement:
The Illinois State Police is committed to keeping the citizens of Illinois safe. Every day we work with the Governor, members of the General Assembly, advocates and businesses making improvements to the system to prevent firearms from winding up in the hands of those who may be a threat to themselves and others. By requiring all owners, employees and agents of licensees to participate in a registration process, and those same individuals to have a valid Firearm Owner’s Identification Card, the Act was designed to significantly reduce the opportunity for both inadvertent and intentional illegal firearm transfers.
The law also requires gun dealers to adhere to certain standards on video surveillance, electronic record-keeping, alarm systems and employee training, though many of these requirements don't go into effect until 2020 or 2021. The law also requires shops to be open to inspections by the Illinois State Police or local law enforcement.
Still, Vandermyde thinks it may already be too late to make good for many gun store owners. He said many of the gun store owners who have chosen to move or close their doors aren't likely to come back even after the rules are implemented, due to a lengthy recertification process they'd have to go through with the ATF.
He said if people have decided the state regulations are a headache now, he doubts they'll choose to get back into the business later. He predicts that when the ATF conducts its next headcount of gun dealers in Illinois this September, they'll find far fewer still around than their last tally in April.