There is a strange situation in many states – Illinois included – where many types of stores are regulated much more closely than those selling guns. Stores offering hari braiding, and barber shops, have specific laws outlining what they can and cannot do, whereas gun stores are left to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
In the context of a recent spike in gun violence in Chicago, this may be about to change. A bill passed last month by the Illinois Senate would force greater accountability onto gun dealers in the state. It’s primary focus is on requiring gun stores to install video surveillance equipment, and on background checks for all employees.
The law will especially target gun dealers who supply a disproportionate number of the guns used in violent crimes. Between 2008 and 2012, the Chicago Police Department has found, more than 1300 guns associated with crimes or illicit use came from a single gun shop.
The hope is that by regulating gun dealers more closely, rogue dealers such as this store will find it more difficult to operate. At the moment, the ATF simply lacks the resources to properly inspect all but a tiny fraction of the nation’s 140,000 federally licensed firearm dealers. Another issue is that many gun shows across the nation lack adequate security measures, and that gun store burglaries hit an all-time peak in 2016.
All of these are routes for criminals to get their hands on guns, alloowing those who are not able to legally purchase guns to do so. Ultimately, they contribute to the illicit abuse of firearms. It is hoped that the new laws will at least allow law enforcement to identify and prosecute those who steal from gun stores, and therefore block at least one route through which illegal guns come into the market place.
Gun store owners are, unsurprisingly, dubious about the new law. Installing security systems in what are commonly small, family run stores can be a ruinous expense, and many small gun store owners fear the new legislation could grant a monopoly on gun dealership to their larger rivals. In addition, they worry about the stipulation that all staff must be trained, as it is currently unclear how long this training will take, and who will be paying for it.
I share the same concerns. At GND we have always promoted the safe and responsible use of firearms, and obviously those who buy weapons on the black market should be prosecuted. However, I also wonder if the new law is punishing the wrong people – it seems to be holding gun dealers responsible for those who choose to steal from them, which is undoubtedly an injustice.
If the state of Illinois can mitigate the cost of the law, perhaps paying for the installation of security systems and training outright, at least for small stores, I see no problem in increasing security. However, this must not be done at the cost of losing the many excellent, small gun stores currently operating in that state.