By Peter Hancock
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – A group of firearms dealers along with the Illinois State Rifle Association filed a lawsuit this week seeking to overturn a new state law that imposes new, stringent requirements on firearms dealers in the state, alleging that it violates both the Illinois Constitution and the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.
The law, known as the Firearm Dealer License Certification Act, requires that any gun dealer in Illinois who is required to have a federal firearms license must also obtain a state license. The law also imposes a number of new requirements in order to qualify for a state license.
Those include requirements that retail gun stores install adequate security, including video surveillance, exterior lighting and alarm systems; that their employees undergo at least two hours per year of training in how to comply with state gun laws; and that they have adequate plans in place for the safe storage of firearms and ammunition during retail hours and after closing.
The state licenses cost $300 for people who only engage in private sales, and $1,500 for dealers that operate retail locations. A federal firearms license costs $90.
“There is no need for this law,” Richard Pearson, head of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said in a news release. “The federal government already licenses gun dealers. All this does is create more red tape and increase the cost of doing business. We said we would challenge this law in court when it was signed, and today we are keeping that promise.”
The lawsuit was filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court on Tuesday, July 16, the day before the new requirement for holding a state license took effect. It names Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly as defendants.
The gun dealers, described as small businesses who are all members of the rifle association, argue that the new law violates the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process under the law because it imposes “prohibitive” costs on them. Those include the cost of the licenses themselves, as well as the cost of installing security systems and the potential $10,000 fine for each violation.
They also argue that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of a right to keep and bear arms because it imposes “undue burdens” on firearms retailers.
And finally, they argue that it violates the Administrative Procedures Act because, as of the date the lawsuit was filed, no administrative rules or regulations have been adopted to implement provisions like the safe storage requirements or training requirements.
In his news release, Pearson noted that of the 2,351 federally licensed firearms dealers in Illinois, only 1,140, or about half, have applied for state licenses.
“This law was never about public safety,” Pearson said. “It was always intended to have a chilling effect on the firearms industry, and it is working.”
Pearson also criticized the way in which the law was enacted, although the lawsuit itself does not challenge the process.
The original bill was introduced in the General Assembly in January 2017 as Senate Bill 337, and its original language proposed technical changes to the Child Care Act of 1969. But it languished throughout the two-year session until May 15, 2018, when Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, introduced what lawmakers call a “gut-and-replace” amendment that stripped out the original language and inserted the firearms dealer licensing provisions.
It passed the Senate on May 16 and was sent to the House, which made an additional change. It passed the House on May 29 and was sent back to the Senate, which concurred in the House amendment on May 30, one day before the scheduled adjournment of the regular session.
All of that occurred during then-Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration – and while Attorney General Raoul was still a state senator – and Rauner, a Republican, was expected to veto it.
To avoid that, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, used a procedural move to hold the bill in the Senate, preventing it from being sent to the governor’s office, until after Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker was sworn into office in January 2019.
Pritzker signed the bill Jan. 18, initiating a 180-day clock for the state licensing requirement to take effect. That 180-day period expired July 17.
“The political gamesmanship to get this legislation signed into law is appalling,” Pearson said in his news release. “Rules and deadlines apparently mean nothing to advocates for gun control. Senate Bill 337 should have died in the 100th General Assembly.”
“Governor Pritzker was proud to make SB 337 the second bill he signed into law as governor, keeping his promise to prevent senseless gun violence from tearing apart families,” Pritzker’s press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email. “This commonsense, bipartisan law makes sure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands and licenses gun dealers just like restaurants and other businesses. We’re certain the state will vigorously defend this important new law.”
A spokesperson in Raul’s office said the attorney general is reviewing the lawsuit.
The gun dealers named as plaintiffs in the case are BFF Firearms LLC in Danville; KAP Guns Inc. in Lake Park; R&J Firearms in Cullom; Quality Firearms in Macon; Midwestern Firearms Company in East Peoria; Birds N Brooks Army Navy Surplus Ltd in Springfield; Linnemann’s Gun Shop Inc. in Millstadt; and Personal Firearms Sales & Service Inc. in Champaign.