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Gun Dealers, Rifle Association Sue To Block New State Requirements

Birds N Brooks Army Navy Surplus, a federally licensed firearm dealer in Springfield, is among eight Illinois gun shops suing over new state rules.
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Birds N Brooks Army Navy Surplus, a federally licensed firearm dealer in Springfield, is among eight Illinois gun shops suing over new state rules.

A group of gun dealers is suing the state of Illinois to block new regulations on their businesses.

Brian Mackey reports.

Eight gun shops, joined by the Illinois State Rifle Association, say a new law requiring state certification will put a lot of them out of business. The law applies to businesses and individuals that already have federal firearm dealer licenses.

In a telephone interview, attorney David Sigale said the regulations are driven by a “fear mentality that the dealers in the state are somehow complicit with the gangbangers in Chicago and  those who would create havoc somewhere.”

He said that is not the case.

“If anyone thinks putting lawful dealers in Central Illinois or Southern Illinois, for example, are going to somehow prevent gang crime in Chicago, unfortunately were sadly mistaken," Sigale said. “It puts lawful businesses out of business, and isn’t going to do a thing to help safety or prevent crime.”

The gun dealers argue the law’s requirements are too expensive. For retail locations, there is a $1,500 annual fee, a requirement that dealers install surveillance cameras, and maintain electronic records of all gun sales.

Calling those obligations onerous, the lawsuit accuses the state of denying gun buyers and sellers of their constitutional right to bear arms.

But one of the legislators who sponsored the law — Democratic state Sen. Don Harmon, from Oak Park — said he expects it to be upheld in court.

“I’ve read the complaint. I haven’t studied it. It seems like pretty weak soup to me,” Harmon said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know how it impairs anybody’s Second Amendment rights — you can still buy a gun.”

According the the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there was 2,350 gun dealers with federal licenses in June. A report this week said the Illinois State Police, which oversees the certification process, had received 1,140 applications for state certification. (The Illinois State Police did not respond to requests to confirm and update that number.)

“The fact that almost 1,200 gun dealers in the state are seeking certification of their license suggests it will be just as easy to buy a gun after the certifications are in place,” Harmon said.

He said he doesn’t think there’s enough information to understand why the number of state applications is so much smaller than the number of federal licensees.

“Many could be what the Second Amendment advocates call ‘kitchen-table dealers,’” Harmon said. “They don’t maintain a retail location. They aren’t engaged in selling guns on a regular basis. They may be holding off until they would need to do a background check the next time.”

“Others could be the larger stores that have multiple outlets where a single application could count for 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 different locations and separate federal firearm licenses,” he said.

The federal licensees include 61 Walmarts, 24 Dick’s Sporting Goods, and dozens of stores in farm-supply chains such as Big R, Rural King and Farm & Home Supply.

“Perfectly reasonable explanations and no evidence whatsoever that any gun dealers have gone out of business as a result of the requirement to file this application,” Harmon said.

A spokesman for the Illinois State Police, which is a defendant in the case, said in an email that the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits. Co-defendant Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office said it was reviewing the lawsuit.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration said he was proud to make gun dealer certification the second bill he signed into law after taking office in January.

“This common-sense, bipartisan law makes sure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands and licenses gun dealers just like restaurants and other businesses,” spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement. “We’re certain the state will vigorously defend this important new law.”

The case is BFF Firearms v. Raoul, No. 2019-ch-253 (Sangamon County, Illinois).

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.