McHenry County gun stores weigh in on proposed Illinois licensing law

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Owners of local gun stores are calling a new proposed state regulatory layer bureaucratic overkill designed to shut them down under the guise of improving public safety.

House Bill 1016, which is on the Illinois House floor for an impending vote, seeks to add a significant level of state oversight and licensing on top of existing federal and state rules that govern the sale of firearms.

The bill seeks to create a state licensing system for both gun stores and their employees, which would require continuing education, and mandate that they contain video surveillance and alarm systems, the specifications for which would be determined at a later date.

Both the vagueness of the bill and its numerous mandates – such as requiring a letter of recommendation from the county sheriff before applying for a license – has On Target Range & Tactical Training Center CEO Bo Strom concerned. He said the law would add numerous expensive mandates to the state-of-the-art store and range in Crystal Lake.

“There’s some detail, but it’s so vague. They’re saying we’re liable to unlimited searches, and granting [the state] the ability to shut us down at any time for public safety. How do you shut down a multimillion-dollar business with absolutely no recourse? That’s crazy,” Strom said.

The bill was introduced earlier this month by state Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, shortly after several state legislators announced the creation of a new state gun control group along with former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona congresswoman who was gravely wounded in a 2011 mass shooting that killed six and injured a dozen others.

Under the new law, both a gun store and its employees must get a state license on top of the existing requirements of a federal firearms license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a state Firearm Owners Identification card.

The proposed law applies to anyone who sells or transfers more than eight guns in a year, regardless of whether that person owns or rents a facility. New gun stores will not be allowed within 1,000 feet of any school, preschool or day care.

One must have been selling guns for at least five years before applying for one of the new licenses to sell them under the law, and salespeople must undergo legal training and continuing education to be determined by a five-member state board. Stores also must set up a security system with to-be-determined specifications, as well as a video surveillance system that records the face of every gun buyer.

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said at last month’s news conference that adding legislation on gun dealers will help fight a “gun violence epidemic.”

“All too often somewhere between a gun manufacturer and a crime scene there is a transaction, an exchange of a gun, a sale of a gun, and one of the participants is pretending to be a law-abiding gun owner – but is anything but,” Harmon said at the news conference.

But Strom and other gun retailers call the proposed law an overreach on top of already stringent requirements that seek to close existing stores and keep new ones from opening by burdening them with red tape and make opening a business or keeping one afloat too expensive.

“We already have enough regulations to follow with the ATF, and also the [Illinois] State Police through the FOID process. How much more control do you need?” Strom said.

For a smaller dealer, such as Marengo gun store owner Dale Rueff, the proposed changes likely would hasten his already-planned departure from Illinois.

Rueff, owner of Dale's Guns in Marengo, is hoping to do what numerous polls and data have shown many Illinois residents want to do or already have done – move to another state. He has bought land in eastern Tennessee and hopes in several years to retire and either settle there or elsewhere.

Unlike On Target, Rueff runs a one-man show. New licensing requirements aside, he said it would make more sense to push up his retirement and shut down rather than augment his alarm system to meet a new state standard and install more video cameras to record purchases.

Rueff and Strom said Chicago’s crime problem is not being fueled by law-abiding retailers that they allege the proposed law is unfairly targeting.

“If they ask us to pour a whole bunch more money in the business, that’s probably not going to happen,” Rueff said. “I think [the regulations] we have right now are fine. It’s enough. If you’re going to be adding more to it, I really don’t see any necessity.”