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Illinois gun dealers have to be certified — but the state’s not ready

Illinois State Police have yet to certify any of the state’s gun dealers as required under a law Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed days after taking office in January.

The agency was supposed to begin issuing certifications to federally licensed gun dealers July 17, but the rules required to implement the law still haven’t been established. In the meantime, gun dealers that have applied under the Firearm Dealer License Certification Act are allowed to continue operating as if they’ve been certified.

In the wake of shootings last weekend in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Chicago; Pritzker pointed to the law as a step his administration has taken to prevent gun violence.

“The Second Amendment is an amendment to the Constitution that we have to uphold, but we also have to uphold the safety of our families and children,” the Democratic governor said Monday at an unrelated event in Chicago. “And I’ve tried to do that. I signed into law the gun dealer licensing bill when I first came into office, and we are looking at other ways in which we can protect our families across the state.”

Lawmakers approved the bill while then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner was still in office, but Democratic Senate President John Cullerton used a procedural maneuver to keep the paperwork off the governor’s desk until Pritzker took office.

Critics of the measure – including Rauner, who vetoed an earlier version – said the law was unnecessary because gun sellers already are licensed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Illinois State Rifle Association has sued the state to block the law.

Supporters of the law say the state must play a role because the ATF does not have sufficient resources to provide adequate oversight of Illinois gun sellers.

To receive state certification, retailers, including small businesses and big-box chains, are required to submit a copy of their federal license along with an affidavit swearing that it remains valid. The certification costs a maximum of $1,500 for sellers with retail locations and $300 for those without a retail location.

Gun dealers had until June 17 to submit their applications in order “to continue doing business without interruption,” according to the state police website. The agency has received 1,158 applications.

It will be at least several months, however, before the state begins issuing the certifications. Lt. Joseph Hutchins, a spokesman for the state police, said the agency submitted its proposed rules Tuesday to the secretary of state’s office. That’s the first step in a process that can take anywhere from 3 months to a year and includes a public comment period and approval from the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

The delay is another frustration for gun dealers who already are facing uncertainty because of the law, said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. He noted that retailers were told they had to meet the state’s application deadline.

“How come it’s OK for the people running the ship not to do something, but it’s not OK for the passengers?” Pearson said.

Certifying gun dealers also creates another responsibility for a state police force that has seen its ranks cut by nearly 20 percent over the past two decades. State police also are responsible for issuing firearm owner’s identification cards and concealed carry permits.

Despite the delays, the chief sponsor of the legislation said he believes it’s still having an effect.

“Even without the certifications being issued, I believe Illinois gun dealers are being more mindful and attentive in their practices,” said state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat.

Chicago Tribune’s Jamie Munks contributed to this story.


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