In 2016, 805 lives in Cook County were lost as a result of gun violence. Thousands more in Cook County were injured by bullets.
Combatting gun violence is complex and politically charged. Meanwhile, technological advances allow for more access to guns and peripheral devices that make them more lethal.
It’s impossible to solve for all the contributing factors to our gun violence problem, but perhaps a start is to treat the businesses that sell guns as any other business in the State of Illinois.
In Illinois, we require businesses that sell liquor to be licensed. We require businesses that sell cars to be licensed. If you a business owner who wants to sell tobacco products you’ll need a license. Barbers need licenses. Nail salons need licenses. Real estate agents need licenses. This list goes on.
So why is it that in Illinois, we do not require gun dealerships to be licensed?
The Gun Dealer Licensing Act currently being considered in the Illinois House is designed to hold all gun dealerships in Illinois to the same standards as many other businesses, as well as to gun shops currently operating in good faith. This bill is not about the right to bear arms, limitations on the types of guns an individual is able to purchase, or a debate on conceal-and-carry. It is about adopting reasonable, sensible and good business practices that will save lives and improve public safety.
The Act (SB 2541/HB 1657) will require background checks for licensees and employees, training on identifying and stopping straw purchasers, and how to prevent the theft of guns. It will allow law enforcement to inspect dealerships and require rigorous record keeping, including video security and copies of purchasers’ ID or firearms license. These practices are not onerous when we consider the alternative: the loss of life to an illegally purchased or acquired firearm.
Of the 2,400 federally licensed gun stores in the State of Illinois, a clear majority are operating responsibly. We applaud these companies for being good corporate citizens, for upholding the rules set forth by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and for delivering the necessary care and knowledge to their customers and neighbors.
Unfortunately, through loopholes in federal law and a lack of resources for enforcement, a small minority of gun dealerships are the source of guns filtering into the criminal market, whether willfully or through a lack of training and regular inspection of practices. A minority of gun sellers engage in illegal business practices or fall short of ATF guidelines, resulting in a disproportionate number of guns used in crimes.
However, in an era of ever-tightening budgets, the ATF does not have the necessary resources and legal authority to go after these negligent gun dealers. Even in cases where a shop has 500 crime-gun traces, the ATF has not been able to enter the store and inspect these incidents. In fact, nearly 17 percent of all the guns used in crimes in Chicago were sold by just three of the state’s gun dealers.
Responsible gun dealerships already embrace these best practices and understand deeply the need for safety. I encourage a “yes” vote for the Gun Dealer Licensing Act when it comes up for a vote in the Illinois House.
Toni Preckwinkle is president of the Cook County Board.
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