Local gun store owners concerned about Illinois licensing bill

Lawmakers in an Illinois House committee advanced a bill this week that has many local gun store owners worried they may soon have to close up shop.

WSIL reported the legislation — Senate Bill 1657, sponsored by Democrat Sen. Don Harmon — was approved in a House judiciary committee this week and is now headed for a full vote on the House floor.

The proposal would essentially mandate state licensing for all Illinois firearms dealers, who are currently only required to be licensed at the federal level. The legislation carved out exemptions for big box stores and for small dealers who sell under 10 guns per year.

The move has local gun store owners, such as Bill Fenton of Murphysboro, worried the bill may put him out of business.

“I can’t sell guns right now at the price that they are going for very well, let alone if I have to raise the price because of all the money they are wanting me to spend,” said Fenton.

Mark Jones, a former Chicago Police officer who supports the bill, says the state-level regulatory system is needed because the ATF currently does not visit enough local gun shops to enforce federal regulations.

“The bottom line is ATF got to 6.3 percent of the dealers in the country last year,” said Jones.

Jones’ argument has been echoed by the editors at Bloomberg, who recently championed the bill, saying it would “force greater accountability among gun dealers in the state — especially those who supply a disproportionate share of guns used in crimes.”

The National Rifle Association has come out strongly against the measure, with its Institute for Legislative Action arguing it “would create onerous mandatory regulations, fees potentially in the thousands of dollars and excessive amounts of red tape that would almost assuredly force the closure of many firearm dealers, and prevent prospective owners from opening new ones.”

After the bill was passed in the Senate in late April, controversy arose when it was reported that the Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association had received an exemption so long as the group did not oppose the bill.

Gun companies Springfield Armory and Rock River Arms, both associated with the IFMA, then came under fire and were accused of selling out the gun rights community. Both companies subsequently denied acting in concert with the IFMA and have since expressed strong opposition to the bill.

While the big box stores may remain unaffected, local store owners like Fenton are left wondering how they’ll make a living if the bill becomes law.

“Illinois is one of the strictest already, so why are they trying to make it more? They’ve already restricted us in several other ways,” said Fenton.