FILE - Gun store, gun shop, firearm sales, gun control

(The Center Square) – In the wake of a government-ordered shutdown of bars, restaurants and other businesses over concerns of spreading COVID-19, residents are likely experiencing delays buying guns as stores wait for state police to process background checks.

Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois Executive Director Todd Vandermyde said gun store owners tell him there’s a run on guns and ammunition. But he said he’s also hearing of delays in customers taking ownership of their purchased firearms because of a backlog at Illinois State Police processing firearm transfer requests.

“You’ve got dealers who won’t release the firearm without the completion of a background check with an approval and so people are now waiting four, five, six, seven days, even,” Vandermyde said.

With all the news of the spread of the novel coronavirus and the orders to restrict gatherings of 50 or more, or even ten or more people, and some municipalities eyeing emergency powers to temporarily prohibit weapons and ammunition sales among other things, Vandermyde said waiting longer than 72 hours to get a gun adds to mounting anxieties.

“When you are now hearing of cities like Oak Park and others talking about lockdowns, that is putting people on edge,” Vandermyde said.

Illinois State Police acknowledge they’ve received around 19,000 inquiries in just five days and are working to timely process them.

“Regarding the Firearm Transfer Inquiry Program (FTIP), the Firearms Services Bureau (FSB) has experienced a high volume of submissions since Friday, March 13, 2020,” a statement from ISP said. “Through March 18, the FSB has received 18,980 inquiries. FSB is working to process these requests as efficiently as possible to ensure a timely response.”

Vandmyde said that’s not enough.

“This is where background checks turn into bans and waiting periods turn into leaving people defenseless,” he said.

Some reports say the national background check system recently experienced a 300 percent increase in filings.

Background checks aren’t required for ammunition purchases but in Illinois, purchasing ammunition still requires a Firearm Owner Identification card.

The Illinois State Rifle Association said they don’t expect this problem to level out until May. And with thousands of new firearm owners, they suggest firearms instructors set up reasonably priced 2 or 3 hour safety classes.

Some stores are putting purchase limits in place and are suspending their services to help residents get Firearm Owner Identification cards and Concealed Carry permits filed.

“Due to increased sales throughout the firearm industry, there are restrictions on firearm and ammo purchases until further notice,” GAT Guns of East Dundee said in an email to customers. “Ammo Sales are limited to 1 box of target and 1 box of defensive/expanding ammo per caliber per household per day. Firearm Purchases will stop 3 hours before store close until further notice. Gun pickups, range use, and non-firearm purchases will continue as normal after that time.”

The retailer also said “in an attempt to minimize our customers' and staff's exposure to COVID-19 Virus, we have made the decision to postpone the majority of our training programs and classes,” and that “FOID and Concealed Carry applications, as well as fingerprints, are not being processed at this time.”

State police have had a backlog of processing FOID applications that some gun stores help facilitate. Those backlogs number in the tens of thousands and have taken months longer than the law allows.

Vandermyde said the background check delay for firearms purchases is just another problem in a slew of issues that ISP has had even before the pandemic shocked the economy.

“They haven’t been able to process FOID cards,” Vandermyde said. “They haven't been able to process the dealer licensing [through the Illinois Firearms Dealer License Certification Act] and now they can’t process background checks. I think that’s a problem.”

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.