The Illinois State Rifle Association filed a lawsuit this week aiming to undo a new law that gives the state more authority over gun dealers.
The controversial legislation — which was passed during former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s tenure and signed by current Gov. J.B. Pritzker during his first days in office — makes it illegal for retailers to sell guns without being certified by the state. The requirement is an addition to the obligatory license issued by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Under the new law, shop owners also have to install surveillance equipment, maintain an electronic inventory, establish anti-theft measures and require employees to undergo annual training.
A three-year certification costs retailers a maximum of $1,500, with the regulations applying to small businesses as well as big-box retailers. Sellers without a retail location are charged $300 for certification.
The federal license costs $300 for new dealers and $90 per year after.
In addition to the Illinois State Rifle Association, eight gun dealers are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in the Springfield-based Sangamon County Circuit Court. The complaint argues the new law, which went into effect Wednesday, places an unfair financial burden on legitimate business owners.
“It is our hope that the court will stop the illegal mistreatment of an already heavily regulated market, by a law that will not protect public safety or reduce crime,” said prominent Second Amendment lawyer David Sigale, who is the lead plaintiff’s attorney in the case. “Rather, the law only serves to put lawful businesses out of business, and imposes hardship and arbitrary standards on those that remain.”
The law’s proponents argued the legislation is necessary to curb gun violence because the ATF does not have the resources to oversee all the gun dealers in Illinois. Opponents, including the Illinois State Rifle Association, say it violates the U.S. Constitution by interfering with the right to bear arms.
“There is no need for this law,” ISRA Executive Director Richard Pearson said in a statement Wednesday. “The federal government already licenses gun dealers. All this does is create more red tape and increase the cost of doing business. We said we would challenge this law in court when it was signed, and today we are keeping that promise.”
The Pritzker administration defended the measure, Senate Bill 337, saying it made Illinois communities safer.
“Governor Pritzker was proud to make SB337 the second bill he signed into law as governor, keeping his promise to prevent senseless gun violence from tearing apart families,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said. “This commonsense, bipartisan law makes sure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands and licenses gun dealers just like restaurants and other businesses. We’re certain the state will vigorously defend this important new law.”
In announcing the lawsuit, the Illinois State Rifle Association continued to criticize Pritzker’s role in the legislation’s signing. Rauner vetoed similar legislation last year, calling it “duplicative” because the federal government already licensed dealers. He publicly doubted whether another layer of oversight would increase public safety.
Lawmakers approved another version in May 2018 while Rauner was governor, but Democratic Senate President John Cullerton held on to the paperwork to keep it off the Republican’s desk so that he couldn’t veto it again. Cullerton finally sent the bill to Pritzker in mid-January, just a few days after the Democrat took office.
“The political gamesmanship to get this legislation signed into law is appalling,” Pearson said. “Rules and deadlines apparently mean nothing to advocates for gun control. Senate Bill 337 should have died in the 100th General Assembly. We are left with no choice but to challenge this terrible new law in court.”