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Stocked and loaded: Chicago area gun dealers say record sales since Jan. 6 driven by ‘fear, plain and simple’

Jeff Regnier, owner of Kee Firearms and Training in New Lenox on Friday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — Gun dealers say they are selling more firearms than ever in the Chicago area since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — and they predict sales will shatter the records set during last year’s civil unrest and in the early days of the coronavirus panic.

“It’s the busiest you could ever imagine. It’s been lines around the block, out the door, around my store every day since March,” said Jeff Regnier, owner of Kee Firearms and Training in far southwest suburban New Lenox.

“Now recently we had the storm of the Capitol. That has gun sales 10 times from what it was in the pandemic, which was already 10 times what your normal business was.”

Mark Glavin, owner of Fox Valley Shooting Range in Elgin, said he saw the same jump in the days before the inauguration of President Joe Biden. “The 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th [of January] were probably some of the highest gun sale days we’ve ever had.”

The Illinois State Police would not release figures on the paperwork they’ve handled related to gun purchases until the month is over, but they have “seen an increase in inquiries through the Firearms Inquiry Transfer Program in the month of January,” said Beth Hundsdorfer, State Police spokeswoman.

And before Jan. 6, last year had already been a record year for guns.

The Illinois State Police reported 554,195 gun-transfer inquiries in 2020, compared to 385,770 in 2019 — an increase of nearly 44%.

Customers line up at Kee Firearms and Training in New Lenox on Friday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The previous monthly records were both set last year — in March at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and in June during the civil unrest following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

The Illinois State Police figures stem from 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.

But the Illinois numbers reflect a national trend. According to the Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting trade group, gun sales nationwide jumped more than 60% in 2020 to 23 million.

Hundsdorfer declined to characterize the rise of inquiries in Illinois or what might have sparked it.

But local gun dealers say this month has seen the hottest gun market ever.

Firearms on display at Marengo Guns in Marengo on Friday.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times filr

And their top salesman is fear.

Fear of everything from Democrats poised to take away their guns to civil unrest in the streets to a state shut down by a virus to a president claiming an election was stolen from him — a claim presented with no proof and rejected by numerous courts but still believed by many.

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, traces the surge in sales to the Black Lives Matter protests last summer and other civil unrest.

“People are worried about it,” Pearson said. “And so, they are beginning to wonder if the police can protect them. And many of us finally realized that the police have no obligation to protect any individual person. So, they’re looking to protect themselves.”

Jeff Regnier, owner of Kee Firearms and Training in New Lenox on Friday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

But gun control advocates lay the blame for that fear squarely in the lap of President Donald Trump, baseless conspiracy theories — and the gun lobby and gun dealers themselves.

“What we saw in January was the Capitol was attacked by domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol illegally,” said Kina Collins from the Gun Violence Prevention Education Center-Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. “And so, it’s been coming from the top, which has been the Trump administration, who has stoked these fears.”

“We know conspiracy theories are definitely feeding into a lot of people’s fears and stoking those fears. But most importantly, we know a lot of advertising dollars and a lot of PR from the NRA and gun lobby is going into making sure that fear draws people to gun shops to buy ammunition and to buy guns.”

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally in Washington on Jan. 6.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP file

But Glavin blamed Democrats for the fear.

The Elgin shooting range owner cited Biden, who supports an assault weapons ban and limiting an individual to one firearm purchase a month, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker shutting down the state and scaring the hell out of people.

“So that’s why people are buying,” he said.

“The liberal Democrats just accepted rioting on the streets and didn’t try to stop it. That’s why people are scared,” he said.

Dan Eldridge, owner of Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range in Des Plaines, said his store has been especially busy the past two weeks, but his ability to meet that demand has been hampered by a supply shortage persisting since March.

“We would normally have one to two months’ worth of [ammunition] supply on hand. Right now, we’re counting in the days,” he said.

Customers browse at Marengo Guns in Marengo on Friday afternoon.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Greg Tannehill of GT Transfer gun shop in south suburban Merrionette Park traced the gun sales to “straight up fear.”

He blames the news media for not covering the “stolen election,” accusing the Chicago Sun-Times specifically of being a “liberal” outlet.

“This stolen election and the increase of gun sales in the last two weeks alone go hand in hand. They’re spawned by the theft of an election,” he said.

“We’re back not trusting our government. The media really painted the best president in history as a really bad guy. You shouldn’t have done that because a lot of people have had enough of that crap. And you’re gonna see a big backlash coming soon if you haven’t already.”

Tannehill would not say if his comment was in reference to the insurrection at the Capitol.

Dominic DeBock of Marengo Guns said the fear is on both sides. Many of his customers since the insurrection have been younger, first-time gun buyers.

Some of the firearms on display at Marengo Guns in Marengo on Friday afternoon.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times file

“I don’t know the minds of people buying our guns,” he said. “But in the past two weeks, you look at the ZIP codes where purchases are coming from, you look at their ages and the timing of it, it doesn’t look like Republicans.”

Equally telling is what his customers are buying.

“People are not spending their money on collectible firearms,” he said. “They’re not buying hunting rifles. They’re not buying shotguns.

“They are buying guns for personal protection. And that speaks to fear, plain and simple.”

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