DECATUR — Independent gun store owners in the area say they’re not joining large retail chains like Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods in placing greater age restrictions on gun sales than current state law requires.
“Others can join the mass hysteria if they like, but we value the Second Amendment down here, and we’ll lean towards that,” said Dan Cooley, owner of Bullet Trap in Macon.
Firearm sellers are used to calls from reporters after news of a mass shooting grips national media and political debates. The Florida Legislature passed a bipartisan gun control bill this week in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 on Feb. 14.
President Donald Trump has urged support for improved background checks in the wake of the Florida school shooting and has promised to issue an executive order barring the use of bump stock devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons.Lawmakers in Springfield have voted on a number of measures and already sent a bill to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner that would place new restrictions on gun purchases, including a new licensing fee when gun stores make a sale.
Rauner has not yet said whether he’ll sign the bill that requires Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to collect $1,000 from each gun dealer for a five-year license to sell firearms. It would also require training of employees and videotaping in “critical areas” of the business.
The legislation would not require larger retailers like Walmart to pay the licensing fees, which is not popular with smaller gun store owners.
“We have a big enough volume (of sales) here, but some of these other gun shops, it might force them to close down,” said Lana Niemeyer, who sells firearms at Decatur Jewelry and Pawn.
It’s also the big-box stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart that are drawing media attention for responding to the political moment. Both companies and Kroger, which sells firearms at 43 of its Fred Meyer locations in the Western U.S., announced last week gun buyers must be 21 to purchase any gun inside their stores. Current law only restricts handgun purchases to those 21 and older.
“They’re doing if for publicity, the mainstream media’s going crazy over this stuff and they’re just on the bandwagon,” Niemeyer said of the major retail chains.
Companies such as Dick’s had already changed some gun-sale policies in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, but the Parkland shooting has opened a fissure between a portion of corporate America and organizations like the National Rifle Association.
One industry analyst said after the announcement from Dick’s, and strong words from its CEO about the need for change, that other retailers that devote a small percentage of their business to hunting will probably follow suit.
“It is a risky game, but you can’t please everyone,” said Joseph Feldman, a senior managing director at Telsey Advisory Group.
The prospect of requiring all purchasers of any firearm to be at least 21 has gained more momentum across the country after the Parkland shooting, but local gun sellers argue the reforms are arbitrary and don’t reflect the reality of who buys guns and why.
“You tell me my grandson’s in the Marine Corps, but he’s not old enough to buy a gun to protect himself and his family?” said Jerry Bates, owner of Jerry’s Guns in Decatur.
“Where does the numbers game stop?” Cooley said. “Restricting gun purchases) is all the wrong thing to be doing when we should be protecting our schools, protecting our children.” Cooley said armed guards and more security at schools should be the focus of lawmakers.
Cooley and others said they don’t see a problem with the current age restriction on handguns, which is 21. Meanwhile all rifles, including AR-15s and other assault-style weapons, can be sold to 18-year-olds.
“Ninety-nine percent of people who buy guns enjoy target shooting and hunting, or for personal protection,” Niemeyer said. “If you’ve ever done any shooting, (semiautomatic assault rifles) are fun to shoot. A lot of different guns aren’t that enjoyable. Everybody’s preferences are different.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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