SPRINGFIELD — Pandemics and protests at home apparently drive Illinois gun sales even more than an insurrection at the nation’s capital.
Illinois gun dealers saw bigger sales last year in the days immediately following the state’s initial COVID-19 stay-at-home order and during the summer’s civil unrest than they did in the weeks following last month’s violence in Washington, D.C.
But gun dealers still sold firearms at a clip near the records set last year in a month that saw the Capitol siege and the inauguration of Democratic President Joe Biden.
The Illinois State Police recorded 56,460 inquiries about firearm purchases in January — the fourth largest number in a single month.
Chicago area gun dealers had predicted sales since Jan. 6 would shatter last year’s records, citing customers’ fears over everything from Democrats poised to take away their guns to civil unrest to President Donald Trump’s unsupported claims of a stolen election.
Two monthly records ahead of January were both set last year — 65,222 in July during the civil unrest following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and 64,028 in March at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The third was 60,035 in December of 2015, a period that included a nationwide increase in gun sales after mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris as well as demonstrations in Chicago over the late November release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video.
The Illinois State Police figures represent documentation used to initiate background checks on potential firearm buyers. It’s not an exact indicator of sales because multiple guns can be bought with a single background check, and some buyers may opt out of a purchase after an inquiry is made.
One gun dealer who had predicted “record-breaking” firearm sales in January was surprised by the news.
“The business in our store has been, like I said, 10 times what it was in the pandemic, you know, it’s just been crazy. So to see that those numbers are not record-breaking is very surprising,” said Jeff Regnier, owner of Kee Firearms and Training in far southwest suburban New Lenox.
But Marengo Guns owner Dominic DeBock, was “very surprised that people think the numbers in January would be higher than they’ve been in the past.”
DeBock doesn’t deny the high demand for guns in Illinois, but he said sales in his own shop in far northwest suburban Marengo have been hampered by a lack of supply.
“There are no guns. There are no guns to sell,” he said. “At the beginning of the pandemic we had 3,500 guns in our building. Since that time we’ve sold those firearms cause demand has been huge. Well, they’re gone now, so all we have to sell is what’s trickling in. Demand doesn’t matter because our shelves are empty.”
Regnier said that his business has been able to stay stocked up despite the shortage.
“We got guys working 24/7 to find suppliers in some unconventional ways,” he said. “We’ve noticed that other shops are sending their customers to us, you know, ‘hey, go over to Kee Firearms, because they got it in stock.’ So maybe we’re feeling the demand a little more than other dealers.”