McHenry County gun owners fear Senate bill, $1K license could harm small businesses

Illinois law would require some shops selling guns to obtain state license

McHENRY – In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, Illinois lawmakers hoping to rein in gun violence have adopted legislation that critics are saying targets independently owned gun shops and exempts larger big-box dealers.

Cathy Levin has been honing her shooting skills for about three years, and although she never has had to fire at a real person, the bullet holes in the chest and head of a silhouetted man on her target sheet suggest she could defend herself if she had to.

“Paper targets don’t shoot back. They’re not full of adrenaline; they’re not aiming at you,” Levin said. “But if I had to protect myself or somebody else, I would rather have a bad guy go down than some innocent person.”

Her hair, pulled back into a blond ponytail, was tucked under a black baseball cap bearing the Sig Sauer gun manufacturer logo. She and her husband, Glencoe Village President Lawrence Levin, visited Second Amendment Sports, 3705 W. Elm St., McHenry, on Friday to use the shop’s indoor gun range.

The passage of a Senate bill sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk Thursday would mean Second Amendment Sports and arms dealers throughout Illinois would be required to obtain a license from the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The bill gained Senate approval April 27, but stalled in the House until Wednesday, when it passed with a 64-52 vote.

State Reps. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake; Steven Reick, R-Woodstock; David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills; and Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, each voted against the bill, while Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, voted in its favor.

“The real issues are you should regulate who should have [guns],” Lawrence Levin said. “Make sure people who are mentally ill or have committed crimes can’t have weapons.”

The $1,000 license is valid for five years, and it only would apply to businesses where at least 20 percent of its overall sales come from gun sales, which exempts most big-box stores.

“I think it’s a terrible, terrible thing. I think it’s not necessary,” Cathy Levin said. “I think it’s a money grab for a state that won’t address its systemic problems, and hasn’t for decades.”

Andersson disagreed that a $1,000 fee – or $200 every year for five years – would do any real damage to gun shops. He said federal gun licenses alone don’t guarantee frequent inspections.

“They just don’t have enough staff,” Andersson said.

Three additional House bills awaiting Senate approval propose banning the sale of bump stocks and trigger cranks, requiring a 72-hour mandatory waiting period after the purchase of an assault weapon, and banning the sale of assault weapons to people younger than 21.

The bills have received criticism from people such as Second Amendment Sports general manager Bert Irslinger, who said the legislation is redundant and a licensing fee could be harmful to independent sellers.

“It doesn’t take much examination to look at the flaws in the bill, starting with the exemptions,” Irslinger wrote in an email to Rauner on Friday morning. “Big-box stores sell more guns than independent dealers, but they are exempt. In fact, here in Illinois, Chicago Trace Report identifies one Cabela’s location as the fourth-highest source of Chicago crime guns. Why would they not be held to the same standard as any other gun dealer?”

The Gun Trace Report is issued in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department and the mayor’s office. The location of the outdoor goods store, Cabela’s, that Irslinger referenced in his email is in Hammond, Indiana, although the business also has a location in Hoffman Estates.

Westforth Sports in Gary, Indiana, remains the third-largest federally licensed supplier of guns used in crimes in Chicago from 2013 to 2016, according to the 2017 report.

About 10 years of data suggest that the majority of illegally used or possessed firearms recovered in Chicago can be traced to states with fewer regulations on firearms, such as Indiana and Mississippi, the report stated.

More than two of every five traceable guns used in crimes recovered in Chicago originate with their first point of sale at an Illinois dealer. The remaining 60 percent of firearms come from out of the state.

Bo Strom and Judy Claxton, majority owners of On Target Range & Tactical Training Center in Crystal Lake, said their shop already is required to operate with a federal firearms license, and it is subjected to oversight from several agencies, including the Illinois State Police.

Anyone who applies for a gun at a federally licensed dealer must fill out a Firearms Transaction Record, which asks questions about criminal history, mental health and citizenship.

“It’s not just about money, but more about the vague and onerous regulation it proposes,” Claxton said. “We already answer to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. We are accountable to, and required by, [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] and the [Environmental Protection Agency] to implement thousands of detailed safety protocols, which we gladly enforce to keep our employees and customers safe. We are one of the most highly regulated industries out there, and all this does is add more red tape.”

A House bill named in honor of Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, who was killed while trying to stop a suspect in the downtown Loop, includes banning the sale of bump stocks, which can accelerate the firing speed of legal semi-automatic firearms, and body armor.

The man accused of shooting Bauer had a criminal history that included a conviction for armed robbery, The Associated Press reported.

Rather than imposing more regulations and licensing, the state should consider enhanced sentencing for people who commit serious crimes involving a gun, McSweeney said.

“The real issue, in my view, is that we have to make sure that we’re going after criminals, not law-abiding citizens,” he said.

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