How the Illinois Gun Dealer Licensing Act got as far as it has

With the Illinois Gun Dealer Licensing Act still being considered in the Illinois House, gun rights advocates are left to question how and why the bill has got this far.

The measure — also known as Senate Bill 1657, sponsored by Democrat Sen. Don Harmon — would essentially mandate state licensing for all Illinois firearms dealers, who are currently only required to be licensed at the federal level.

Under the bill, dealers would have to undergo background checks and install security camera systems in stores. Documentation of each purchase will also be required, as would keeping copies of every customer’s firearm identification card.

Controversy arose around the bill in late April, after it was passed in the Illinois Senate on a 30-21 vote, when legislative records showed the Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association and its lobbyist Jay Keller had dropped its opposition to the bill.

In exchange for the IFMA’s neutral stance, an amendment was added to the legislation that would exempt big box stores and firearms manufacturers from the measure. The two companies that the IFMA represented were Springfield Armory and Rock River Arms.

The initial reaction of the guns rights community was swift and fierce, with many saying the two companies had betrayed gun owners and calling for boycott’s on their products.

Springfield and Rock River then responded in tandem on May 1, as both companies came out with statements vehemently opposing SB1657. Both said they were not aware of the IFMA’s actions before it was too late. Springfield called it “an unfortunate lapse in communication,” while Rock River said “there was a disconnect and that representation was misguided.”

The following day, Springfield’s CEO Dennis Reese issued another statement, further condemning the legislation and the IFMA’s actions and announcing that the company would be severing all ties with the IFMA as a result.

“The Executive Director of the Illinois Firearm Manufacturers Association acted without our prior knowledge and against our principles and those of the industry as a whole with respect to the Gun Dealer Licensing Act,” Reese said. “We no longer have confidence in IFMA and after speaking to other directors we have made the decision to sever all ties with the organization, effective immediately.”

Rock River also pulled out of the organization on May 2, saying the “IFMA’s integrity is compromised” and that they had lost all trust of the organization.

Because Rock River and Springfield were the only companies the IFMA represented, the organization was thus disbanded. The two companies have since come together to fight the bill, with Rock River’s co-founder Chuck Larson and Springfield’s Reese attending a House Hearing regarding the legislation on May 16.

In yet another statement, Reese said he submitted a slip to testify at the hearing but was ultimately not selected. The same statement includes a link to a video in which Reese again apologizes for the situation and claims the Executive Director of the IFMA brokered the deal without their knowledge.

While both Springfield’s and Rock River’s apologies and subsequent actions to oppose the bill may seem sincere, many are left to wonder how such a profound lapse in communication could have occurred. How could both companies have no knowledge of what their own lobbyist was brokering on their behalf?

In order to try and gain some clarity around just how the lapse in communication went down, reached out to both companies and so far has received no response.

Despite both companies attending the House hearing and many other gun rights advocates testifying against it, the bill passed out of the House judiciary committee and now awaits a full vote on the House floor.

The National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation and Illinois State Rifle Association have all come out in opposition to the bill.

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