Gun store owner

In May of 2018, John Van Sandt puts a chamber flag back in a pistol at Lost Creek Trading Post in Marshall, Ill.

Some locally owned gun stores in east-central Illinois are closing their doors or moving to Indiana in response to new Illinois licensing requirements that owners say impose too great a burden on mom-and-pop operators.

“I'm planning on getting out after 45 years,” Randy Sutton, owner of Sutton's Crazy Horse Guns & Archery in Paris, said Tuesday. “The whole concept is to put the small dealers out of business.”

Joyce Behnke, owner of Lost Creek Trading Post in Marshall, said, “It's just not cost-effective for me [to continue to operate in Illinois].”

Behnke and her husband, Bill, have a limited use permit to sell guns from their home in Seelyville and plan to move their business to that Indiana town this summer.

At issue is the Illinois Firearm Dealer License Certification Act. The Illinois General Assembly passed the measure in May 2018 but Bruce Rauner, the state's Republican governor at the time, vowed to veto it as he had an earlier measure. State Senate President John Cullerton held on to the paperwork and new Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed it in January three days after taking office.

Businesses originally thought they had until October to apply for the new license and until December to comply with all requirements.

But Illinois State Police sent out notices last month listing deadlines of June 17 to apply and July 17 to be certified.

“It really doesn't give you much time,” Bill Behnke said — especially considering the list of requirements in the nearly 5,300-page legislation, he added.

One of the first things small business operators such as Sutton and the Behnkes point to is the $1,500 cost of a three-year state license, which they maintain needlessly duplicates a $90 federal license, also valid for three years.

“This is just another layer of tighter controls that make it so doggone expensive, and it just doesn't make any sense to pass than on to the customer,” said John Van Sandt, a salesperson at Lost Creeek. “It's just not right.”

Sutton said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “already checks us down to the last dotted "I" and crossed "T'.”

Requirements of the new law also include 24-hour-a-day video surveillance of businesses, video recordings of all sales with off-site storage of recordings, background checks of employees and their families, and a mandate for trigger locks that are not be removed from guns until after the sale.

The trigger lock requirement means “people can't really feel the gun, which is a big selling point,” said Van Sandt.

Retailers also say they have not been kept up to date on new state requirements.

“Illinois passed three gun laws last year and they didn't contact the dealers,” said Sutton. “And I don't know a whole lot about this one.”

The Illinois State Police web site includes information about the Firearm Dealer License Certification Act, but clicking on “Frequently Asked Questions” link calls up a page that reads “Coming Soon.”

“It's hard to prepare for it if you don't know what's going on,” Sutton said.

“It's very subjective,” Joyce Behnke said of how retailers' safety plans will apparently be evaluated. “They can come in and say your premises isn't good enough. You need to put in a $10,000 camera system.”

The Behnkes also object that many requirements of the new law do not apply to persons operating out of their home and selling firearms to people they know, or by appointment only. Fees for those without a retail location are also limited to $300.

Lost Creek Trading Post's move to Indiana will end 14 years of operation in Marshall.

Yet Van Sandt said the new state licensing requirement “does absolutely nothing to prevent crime. It's going to unemploy a lot of people” and result in lost sales tax revenue for the state and local governments.

“It appears that this is another way to chip away at the Second Amendment,” he added.

Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or Follow him on Twitter @TribStarDave.