Local gun store owners enjoying sales surge

Dale Rueff turned being laid off after 30 years at a manufacturing plant in Union into an opportunity to make a living out of his longtime interest in guns.

He opened Dale’s Guns in Marengo two years ago. In that time, he’s doubled his inventory to satisfy the large number of people looking to buy firearms and ammunition.

“Business has been really good – I’ve grown my business quite a bit,” Rueff said.

Rueff’s observations that guns are a lucrative business these days are hardly unique. His gun shop is one of at least three that have started up in McHenry County since 2010. And the business owners – backed up by government and commerce data – agree that guns have been good business for years.

The reasons, they say, are a mix of concerns over crime rising in the continuing sluggish economy, and fears over how Second Amendment-friendly – or unfriendly – Springfield and Washington will be after the 2012 election.

The Illinois State Police have seen record numbers of applications for Firearm Owners Identification cards, required under state law to purchase guns and ammunition. More than 1.3 million FOID cards were active in Illinois as of Jan. 1, 2011, state police spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

But that tally will significantly increase with the next update, given that the state police received 321,467 applications last year. It received 287,552 applications in 2010, and 2009 set the record with 326,008 applications, according to records.

An audit released earlier this year that criticized the FOID card program’s effectiveness revealed that state police spent almost $527,000 in overtime pay for employees to catch up with FOID requests, which have been lagging far behind the 30-day maximum set by state law.

Marengo Guns, which opened a year ago, averages filing between 30 and 40 FOID cards a week for future customers, owner Dominic DeBock said. To DeBock, there’s more to that than the fact that he doesn’t charge on top of the $10 state fee.

DeBock said his business is selling twice the volume of guns and ammunition than what he thought he would when he opened. He said he has noticed a trend – first-time buyers are concerned about home safety and personal protection, and multiple buyers are concerned about new gun-control laws under the Gov. Pat Quinn and Obama administrations.

In the months following Obama’s inauguration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gave permission to gun shops to be able to use photocopies of Form 4473 – the federal form required to record firearm transactions – because the ATF was running out of them.

Unsuccessful bills have been filed in Springfield to ban “assault-style weapons” and their parts, impose harsh penalties on gun owners whose firearms end up missing, and impose a sales tax on ammunition to fund trauma centers in high-crime areas.

“People are concerned with the different laws being talked about, taking away rights or limiting those rights or limiting ammunition, coming out at the state and federal levels,” DeBock said.

But fear is not the only factor that can explain the surge in gun sales.

Applications for FOID cards increased in 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s 28-year-old handgun ban as unconstitutional, which also translated into business for suburban gun shops.

Likewise, Wisconsin’s decision last year to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, followed by attempts by downstate lawmakers in Springfield to follow suit, also contributed to the FOID card increase. Illinois is presently the only state that does not allow residents some form of concealed carry.

All 50 states have seen steady increases in gun purchases over the past several years.

The FBI performed a record 16.4 million firearm background checks in 2011, up by 2 million over 2010. The 129,166 requests the FBI received on Black Friday, the day-after-Thanksgiving kickoff to the holiday shopping season, beat the previous record, set just after the 2008 election, by 32 percent.

The high demand has made some guns scarcer because manufacturers are having a hard time keeping up with the demand. And at retail stores that sell ammunition, such as Walmart and Farm & Fleet, demand has made common handgun calibers, such as 9mm and .40 caliber, not so common. DeBock said he has sold 60,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition in the past two months alone, and can barely keep it in stock.

On Target Range and Tactical Training Center recently opened for business, and the combination range and gun shop is holding its grand opening June 22. Operations Director Thomas Dorsch said gun sales nationwide cycle not only because of elections, but also because of concerns over the economy, crime, and special cases such as worries over the Y2K bug in the late 1990s.

Both Dorsch and DeBock also credit increasing interest in shooting as a hobby as a contributing factor.

“It is not only a strictly self-defense surge, but also a surge with people who have reacquainted themselves with the sport of shooting,” Dorsch said.

Marengo gun salesmen DeBock and Rueff said home defense still is the main reason cited by their customers. But Rueff said he also gets an earful about government when customers come in to make a sale.

“It’s also people not trusting the government – whether they’ll be able to own guns. People want to get guns now while they can. That’s what I hear from people coming in here,” Rueff said. “The government’s tied our hands on other things before – if they have a chance to tie our hands on guns, and if they thought they could, they would.”

By the numbers

• 1.3 million – the number of Illinois residents with Firearm Owners Identification Cards as of Jan. 1, 2011.

• 321,467 – the number of FOID card applications received last year by the Illinois State Police.

• 16.4 million – the record number of background check requests the FBI received last year for the sale of firearms.

• 32 percent – the amount by which the number of background check requests received last Black Friday broke the previous record.

SOURCES: Illinois State Police, FBI

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