Update: Democratic State Senator Don Harmon declined to call the Gun Dealer Licensing Act for an override vote, and Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto will stand. Harmon said he will reintroduce the bill at a later date.
Lawmakers and advocates for stricter gun control measures in Illinois will go into overdrive this week as their effort to override Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill strengthening state oversight of firearms dealers faces a critical deadline.
Under Illinois rules, the state Senate has until Wednesday, April 25, to initiate an override, which would need six more votes than the Gun Dealer Licensing Act itself received when it cleared the chamber by a 30 to 21 margin last spring. If the override clears that hurdle, it will move on to the state House, where boosters will have to flip seven former opponents in order to muscle the proposal into law.
Rauner’s rejection of the bill on March 13 sparked a lobbying effort that’s drawn support from the Chicago Police Department, religious leaders, and Cook County’s state’s attorney, Kimberly M. Foxx, among others.
Kathleen Sances, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention PAC, said the coalition’s efforts had already persuaded three additional lawmakers to support of the law. She declined to name those legislators.
Much of her side’s messaging, she said, has focused on the findings of polling that the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition commissioned on voters in 20 key House and Senate districts.
The survey, conducted by both a Republican and a Democratic pollster, found 71 percent of voters in the districts polled favored increased state regulation of gun sellers, with only 23 percent against. The districts polled are located in suburban Cook and Collar Counties of Chicago as well as a few downstate.
“They [lawmakers] should be listening to these people. It is who they represent, it is who pays their checks,” she said.
The two shops that supplied the most firearms are well-known to antiviolence activists.
The Gun Dealer Licensing Act would require Illinois gun shops to obtain a state license in addition to their already mandated federal license. It would further compel dealers to conduct background checks of their employees, which federal law mandates only for shop owners, and have employees take part in mandatory training. The bill would also require shops to install video-monitoring systems in an effort to deter straw purchasing, in which a buyer purchases weapons on behalf of someone not legally allowed to own a gun.
Under the proposal, Illinois authorities would perform inspections of all gun dealers in the state. Currently, inspections fall to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal agency in charge of regulating firearms. However, as The Trace has reported, the ATF rarely meets its inspection targets for dealers. In 2016, agents inspected just 6.3 percent of gun stores nationally. In fiscal year 2015, the last year for which data is available, there were 2,925 dealers in Illinois.
In Chicago, a significant share of firearms recovered by police have been traced to gun dealers across the state. A report released by the city last year found that approximately 40 percent of the roughly 15,000 crime guns recovered by Chicago Police between 2013 and 2016 were sold by dealers in suburban Cook County. Almost a thousand guns that turned up at city crime scenes were linked to Chuck’s Gun Shop in the suburb of Riverdale. Midwest Sporting Goods on the West Side in the suburb of Lyons supplied nearly 700 crime guns.
State Senator Don Harmon, a Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation, said that the bill would give local law enforcement the “tools to crackdown on the handful of gun dealers who are abusing the process.”
In his veto statement, Rauner argued the legislation was redundant because of existing federal oversight of gun shops and would do little to stymie gun-related crime.
“We have ample proof that such narrowly focused legislative responses make for good political cover, but they do little to stop the illegal flow of guns into Illinois or prevent people from committing thousands of crimes in our state each year with illegal guns,” he wrote.
At the time, Rauner was facing a primary challenge from State Representative Jeanne Ives, who attacked him for not taking an even stronger pro-gun stance. Ives said that she was “completely opposed to that bill” and taunted Rauner for saying during his deliberations that he needed to “check with his wife,” before he vetoed it.
The bill is opposed by local gun rights groups like the Illinois State Rifle Association as well as the National Rifle Association, which say it is overly burdensome to shop owners.
Todd Vandermyde, the executive director of the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois, described the law as a “huge overreach” and said he was confident that the veto override effort would fall short.
“They [lawmakers] have pinned their hopes on this bill being some sort of panacea,” he said, but, “you have to understand the gun control wins have been few and far between.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the date of Governor Rauner’s veto.