More than half of Illinois’ 2,351 federally licensed gun dealers haven’t yet applied for state licenses required by the new Illinois' Firearm Dealer License Certification Act, which takes effect Wednesday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the state's Firearm Dealer License Certification Act on Jan. 18 after taking office. Lawmakers held the measure over from the previous General Assembly after former Gov. Bruce Rauner vowed to veto it. Rauner had previously vetoed a similar bill. He said it would lead to small businesses closing and make it harder for people to legally buy firearms.

The law Pritzker signed added regulations for gun stores that business owners have said are too burdensome. The law requires gun stores, including pawnshops that want to sell firearms, to have a state license on top of a federal license. It’s set to take effect Wednesday.

In June 2019, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported there were 2,351 licensed dealers in Illinois. Illinois State Police officials said Monday that 1,140 applications for state licenses were submitted. That's a difference is 1,211, or more than half the federally licensed dealers in the state. However, it’s unclear how many of those 1,211 federal license holders are brick-and-mortar retailers. The vast majority of dealers impacted are expected to be small operations.

Several gun stores have announced that they planned to close because of the new law.

“As we expected, this was never about accountability, or regulating an industry, it was about driving gun dealers out of business and making it harder for people to have access to their Second Amendment rights,” said FFL Illinois Executive Director Todd Vandermyde.

“I’m thrilled 1,100 gun dealers have applied,” said state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Brook, who sponsored the measure. “I think it's a real success.”

Harmon said it’s too early to comment about reports of gun dealers that have already closed or have decided to stop selling firearms.

“I don’t think we have the facts to reach that conclusion,” Harmon said nothing he hasn’t seen the entire list. “A lot of the [Federal Firearms License] holders are kitchen-table dealers, someone who’s engaged in the transaction on a limited basis. It would make sense for them to not seek certification” as the process continues to unfold.

The state-run World Shooting Complex in Sparta is exempt from the law.

Bill Oglesby, of Oglesby and Oglesby Gunmakers in Springfield, said the law includes a state fine of $10,000 if ammunition is within five feet of a firearm, or if a shop doesn’t have the right sized signs.

“I can go on and on and on about it, but the thing is it’s nothing but oppression for the gun dealers and the people who want to have guns and ... it won’t change crime in any way whatsoever,” Oglesby said.

Supporters of the measure have said it will ensure gun dealers aren’t enabling illegal straw buyers. Phil Davis, whose employer modified its business to stop selling guns because of the law, said all that the law will do is hurt the industry.

“One thing Illinois should learn from the 1920s and prohibition is when you make something impossible to get legally, it becomes very profitable to get illegally,” Davis said.

Davis has worked at a gun store in Springfield for nearly 20 years and said it was eye-opening going into work Monday.

“I walked in this morning and I looked at where the [gun] racks used to be and realized after 20 years working at a place, $15 an hour, 40 hours a week, I no longer work at a gun shop because we’re following all of the rules, but they literally priced us out of the market,” Davis said.

The law includes digital record keeping requirements such as video and audio surveillance of the premises. Such surveillance equipment can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Staff Writer

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.