Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2021
The Firearms Dealers License Certification Act (also known as the Combating Illegal Gun Trafficking Act) was signed into law on January 18, 2019 and requires all Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealers engaged in the business of transferring firearms to have their FFL certified by the Illinois State Police. Nevertheless, many areas of the regulations remain in dispute and strong opposition has led to the delay of dates for required compliance. The Act is also being challenged by the Illinois State Rifle Association and a number of gun dealers in Illinois who deem that the Act is an unconstitutional infringement on their right to keep and bear arms.
Federal Firearms License requirements
On a federal level, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for regulating firearm commerce in the United States. The bureau issues FFLs and conducts firearms licensee inspections. A 2013 Report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that ATF did not meet its goal of inspecting FFLs on a cyclical basis, resulting in only 42 percent of dealers being inspected over 5 years. As a result, more states have begun to enact laws to further regulate the licensing of gun dealers. Illinois is one of those states.
In Illinois, the Firearms Dealer License Certification Act passed the General Assembly in May 2018, but knowing Bruce Rauner was likely to veto it, lawmakers held the bill until JB Pritzker took office. Pritzker signed it only a few days after his inauguration on Jan. 18, 2019. Pritzker emphasized that the gun shop license requirement will be a step in the direction of preventing gun violence by ensuring that guns do not get into the wrong hands.
Under the Act, anyone with a federal firearms licenses who operates a retail gun store (both small business and big box merchants) must abide by new requirements, which include:
- maintain an inventory of firearms which must be connected to an alarm monitoring system that will notify local law enforcement agency of authorized intrusion;
- implement an electronic-based record system to keep track of changing inventory;
- maintain a video security system and surveillance; and
- require employees to undergo 2 hours of training annually regarding legal requirements and responsible business practices
A certification for 3 years costs $300 for a non-retail location and $1,500 for a retail location.
Opposition to the Act
Opponents heavily dispute the rules stating that the costs for complying with the requirements, including the type of video surveillance systems and the number of cameras that gun stores must maintain, is too high forcing them out of business.
Illinois State Rifle Association is a non-profit membership organization with more than 26,000 members and supporters. ISRA’s purpose includes securing the Constitutional right to privately own and possess firearms within Illinois through education, outreach, and litigation. ISRA argues that there is no need for this law as the federal government already licenses gun dealers.
On July 16, 2019, the Illinois State Rifle Association and several Illinois gun dealers, including Linnemenn’s Gun Shop, Midwestern Firearms and Birds N Brooks Army Navy Surplus, filed suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court against the Illinois State Police challenging the law’s constitutionality.
Gun dealers assert that the Act places onerous restrictions on firearms dealers, which “increase cost past the breaking point for many, for others at best to pass on to those who would be seeking to exercise their right to keep and bear arms, and place an undue burden on the dealer’s ability to operate their businesses and serve their communities.” They maintain that approximately 50% of the firearms dealers in Illinois will not remain in business as a result of the Act. The case is still pending.
Current status of the Act
This controversy has contributed to the long delay in passing the new rules, some of which were supposed to be in effect by Jan. 2, 2020. Due to the strong public opposition, the ISP agreed to revise the rules in December 2019 and implement emergency rules in the interim. Since then, Illinois State Police and lawmakers have worked together to compromise on new rules that are agreeable for all parties. Some new rules were approved on June 16, 2020 in Springfield by the General Assembly. One such example is a change in the original proposal, which required all weapons to be held in a secure, separate location overnight, to a softer standard allowing for the guns to stay on-site as long as there is a security system.
The law does not require compliance with the rules until January 2, 2021. Illinois State Police and lawmakers plan to continue discussion in other areas of concern hoping to compromise before that date.