CHICAGO — A bill that sought to strengthen regulations on Illinois firearms dealers in an effort to crack down on gun violence will remain on hold until next year after it failed to garner enough support and was pulled from a vote in the state’s Democrat-controlled House on Wednesday.
The decision to delay action on the Gun Dealer Licensing Act until lawmakers reconvene in Springfield in January came three days after a gunman opened fire on a rural Texas church, killing 26 people and reigniting a fierce debate nationwide over gun-control policies.
State Representative Kathleen Willis, a Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said it remained a few votes short of the 60 votes in favor needed to pass.
“Unfortunately, the gun lobby is an all-or-nothing lobby, and they have really dug in their heels,” Willis said in an interview after the bill was pulled on Wednesday afternoon.
The Gun Dealer Licensing Act would require gun shops in Illinois to obtain a state license in addition to their already required federal license and would compel dealers to conduct background checks of their employees. Current federal law mandates these checks only for shop owners.
The bill would also require shops to install video-monitoring systems in an effort to prevent straw purchasing — in which a buyer purchases weapons on behalf of someone not legally allowed to own a gun — and have employees take part in state-mandated training. State authorities would perform inspections on all dealers, in addition to those currently carried out by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The bill was narrowly passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate in late April, but remained two to five votes short in the House, Willis said.
Some representatives, she said, were waiting on the passage of an additional bill, which would put a cap on the new license at $1,000 and give gun shop owners five years to come into compliance with the new regulations, like installing video-surveillance equipment.
Chicago has long struggled to contain gun violence, concentrated primarily on the city’s South and West Sides. There have been 2,490 shootings in the city this year, according to the Chicago Police Department.
Late last month, a report from the CPD and city detailing the origins of crime guns in Chicago found 10 gun stores accounted for almost 25 percent of roughly 15,000 crime guns recovered by the CPD between 2013 and 2016. Seven of the top 10 shops that were sources of crime guns are located in Illinois, the other three are in neighboring Indiana.
The term crime gun refers to a firearm recovered by Chicago police that was illegally possessed, used, or suspected to be used in committing a crime.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, and CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson, both back the licensing bill as a way to reign in the Illinois-based shops, some of which have been targeted by anti-violence activists for years. The bill does not cover big-box retailers like Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops because they do not significantly contribute to the flow of guns used in crimes, Willis said. (While Cabela’s was listed in the city’s trace report as one of the top 10 sources of crime guns, the store is located in Indiana, not Illinois).
“Right now in Springfield, we have a chance with new legislation, as it relates to gun shops and registration, that we can actually do something to enhance public safety,” Emanuel told reporters on Tuesday.
The City Council passed a similar ordinance for Chicago in 2014, and the city remains without a gun store. Last year, Illinois adopted a bill targeting repeated gun offenders.
The National Rifle Association strongly opposes the Gun Dealer Licensing Act. “The chief effect of this dealer licensing legislation is to make the business of legally selling firearms prohibitively expensive,” the gun group said in a statement.
Willis, the bill’s sponsor, said she thought recent events would have changed the minds of some of the bill’s opponents. “I did not want to take advantage of a tragedy, but I thought the tragedy would wake up a few people,” she said, referring to Sunday’s mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.