Senate passes bill to license gun dealers


James Tsitiridis

Senate passes bill to license gun dealers

By Caroline Bowen

Illinois State lawmakers continue to debate ways to combat Chicago’s violence, but stricter statewide gun regulations could be one answer to solve the climbing violent crime rate, said State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. 

The Gun Dealer Licensing Act—Senate Bill 1657—introduced by Harmon Feb. 9, would require Illinois gun dealers to be licensed at the state as well as the federal level. The bill passed in the Senate April 27, 30–21, and is awaiting an unscheduled hearing by the House Rules Committee. 

“We are seeing kids killing each other in part because handguns are so easily accessible,” Harmon said. “[The bill] is especially important today when the flow of illegal guns into our neighborhoods—not only in Chicago, but also in the Chicago suburbs—is enacting such a profound toll.” 

The bill would require gun licensees and dealership employees selling guns to undergo background checks before entering the field. Other requirements include documentation of purchases, obtaining copies of every costumer’s firearm identification card and the installation of video security cameras in brick-and mortar-stores, according to state legislative records.

Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, the lead organization in the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition, said the bill would require distributors to be trained before conducting background checks. Additional training about how to properly store guns is necessary to prevent store thefts, which have been on the rise in recent years, he added. 

Harmon, who has been supporting gun-licensing legislation since he was elected in 2003, said while some Republicans crossed the aisle and supported the bill, the majority and firearm organizations oppose it. 

“The National Rifle Association and the Illinois State Rifle Association are politically powerful, and they have worked hard to kill the bill,” Harmon said. 

Richard Pearson, executive director of ISRA, said he disapproves of the bill because the federal government already mandates strong inspections, and this proposal would drive small gun dealerships out of business. Responsible gun owners in Illinois would have to drive out-of-state in order to purchase a firearm, he added. 

Pearson said he understands the need to combat violence in Chicago, but guns are not the source of the city’s problems. Instead, lawmakers should confront the climbing high school dropout rates in Chicago Public Schools and the “drug-infested gangs” to reduce crime, he added. 

“You can pass all of the laws you want in the world, but until you get rid of the drug gangs that are fueling all of [the violence], it’s not going to stop,” Pearson said. “[The bill] is a Band-Aid on your knee to cover your skinned elbow.” 

Harmon said the bill is intended to reduce the number of straw purchases—when a person prohibited from buying a firearm has another person buy a gun on their behalf—and minimize the circulation of illegal guns in the state. 

The legislation gives local law enforcement data research tools to track criminals because the federal government does not share enough information with them about gun and gang crime, according to Harmon. 

“It is very difficult for local law enforcement and the state to do their job of regulating and policing,” Harmon said. “There are 20-some [federal] agents assigned to all of Illinois and Northern Indiana. That’s for 2,400 gun dealers. We really need to give local police some power to interact with those gun dealers.” 

Walsh said increased gun dealership regulations are directly associated with an 84 percent decrease in the number of guns being used in crimes from those gun dealers, citing a 2013 Spurring Responsible Firearms Sales and Practices Through Litigation. 

Harmon said there is misinformation around the bill that it increases the cost of firearms. He said it will not impede on gun ownership for law-abiding gun owners. 

“Nobody is coming to take their guns away from them,” he said. “I wish we could get some cooperation and work together to try to get guns out of the hands of criminals.”