Second Amendment supporters are a pretty dedicated lot so you’d think the 1994 Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger sellout to the Clinton Administration would continue to be a warning to all firearm manufacturers. Both sold out law abiding gun owners by buying into Clinton’s Assault Weapon Ban and both suffered overwhelming public backlash. So one would think it would serve to put manufacturers on notice that turning their back on pro-Second Amendment John Q. Public isn’t the best option; not so for Springfield Armory and Rock River Arms.
Last Thursday the Illinois State Senate passed SB-1657 – The Gun Dealer Licensing Act. Its fate in the House is uncertain and so too is what Governor Bruce Rauner will do if it hits his desk. Rauner, a Republican who constantly butts heads with the predominantly Democratic legislature, is a known hunter and firearm owner.
SB-1657 would create a state-level gun dealer licensing scheme placing an additional, heavy and duplicative burden on federally approved and regulated gun dealers. Among many concerns, it establishes qualifications for obtaining dealership licenses beyond that of the federal FFL requirements and for being employed as a dealership agent. It would require enhanced security systems, provide penalties for violations, initiate a process for additional rulemaking, allow the State Police to walk into any FFL’s place of business to demand an audit, and establish the state may levy whatever fees it wishes without legislative oversight.
According to Senator Harmon’s comments during the third reading of the bill and immediately before it was passed, it exempts sellers of fewer than 10 firearms per year. Let that sink in a moment. There is an estimated 3,000 FFLs in Illinois and no estimate of how many sell fewer than 10 firearms a year. It’s a fair guess the increased regulations are going to hit a lot of small mom-and-pop businesses very hard but consider the other side of that number. Non-FFL holders, meaning John Q. Public, will not be able to sell more than nine firearms in a given year. To do so means having to become a licensed dealer with all the ramifications that surrounds it.
Harmon also said the bill makes exceptions for temporary transfers for use, for instance, on a shooting range, transfer of firearms among immediate family members, transfer by persons acting under operation of a court order or the law, transfers by folks liquidating a part or all of their collection, and transfer of firearms that have been rendered permanently inoperable to a historical society among others.
Where it gets interesting is the exemption for transfer of firearms by dealers for whom less than 20% of their sales come from the sale of firearms, i.e. big box stores such as WalMart, Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops to name a few. This provision is a slap in the face to all Illinois FFLs and will likely prove to be the final nail in their coffin because mom-and-pop operations have a difficult time competing with big box stores to begin with.
When asked why they are exempted Harmon said, “Two reasons… one of policy and one of politics. The first is a matter of policy. There is not a demonstrable record of guns used in crimes that have been traced back in large numbers to sporting goods stores or to big box stores that sell a lot of different things. And then simply as a matter of politics, I am doing my best to eliminate as many opponents of this bill as I can in order to pass the bill and focus on the real source of guns that turn up in crimes.”
As part of doing his best to eliminate as many opponents as possible, he struck a deal with the Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association (IFMA). In a recent article, author John Boch wrote that Jay Keller, IFMA’s lobbyist, traded that group’s opposition to the bill in exchange for a carve-out, removing Prairie State firearms manufacturers from the licensing requirements. To be clear, that means Illinois manufacturers who are members of IFMA, get a pass from everything. Guess who are the two major IFMA funding sources: Springfield Armory and Rock River Arms. The two 500-pound gorillas in Illinois’ gun manufacturing sector.
Springfield Armory CEO Dennis Reese gave one of the most pusillanimous explanations I have ever heard. “The legislative process is a fluid process, he said. “The bill has only moved through one chamber, and it is still in the process. We fully support the Second Amendment and stand by it. The Illinois Manufacturers Association will continue to fight and protect not only manufacturers but dealers and the gun owner as well.” After which he turned his back on Illinois FFLs and gun owners to save his own hide. The only question that remains to be seen is whether or not John Q. will turn his back on them.