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The Egyptian Collectors Association is hosting multiple gun shows in Illinois this year. This show was held last weekend in Bloomington, home of Illinois State University.

Land of Lincoln: Locked and loaded

by Laurel White
Feb 21, 2013


Laurel White/MEDILL

Bob Holland works for Guns Save Life, an Illinois gun rights nonprofit. “We have a right to have firearms. And we want to keep that right,” he said.


Laurel White/MEDILL

This text adorned a t-shirt for sale at the Bloomington ECA gun show. T-shirts, caps and flags were for sale alongside weapons and ammunition.


Laurel White/MEDILL

Illinois requested 1,036,061 background checks for firearm sales in 2012. Only Texas, California and Kentucky requested more.

You want a gun. But you don’t want to go to a gun shop. Maybe you don’t want your purchase on a government register. Maybe you’re legally ineligible to buy guns. Maybe you’re in the business of illegally trafficking guns to the Maniac Latin Disciples.

You have three ways to get a gun in Illinois without going to a brick-and-mortar gun retailer: gun shows, private sales and recruiting a straw buyer.


Private pistols: Getting a gun from an unlicensed seller in Illinois

A lot of people are getting guns without background checks in Illinois.

Their secret?

Private sales.

Across the United States, roughly 40 percent of gun sales are private (6.6 million in 2008), according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2010.

“The problem with private sales right now is basically like this: If you get on an airplane and the pilot says ‘60 percent of you went through security,’ would you feel safe,” asked Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

Federal law – The Gun Control Act of 1968 – says that only individuals engaged in the business of buying and selling firearms are required to conduct background checks. That means official, licensed firearms dealers, not your Uncle Joe selling a rifle out of his garage.

California, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have their own laws requiring checks for some private sales.

Some say that private gun sales aren’t exactly rampant in Illinois.

“They would like to make you think that people are selling guns out of their trucks day and night,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. “That’s just not true.”

But Pearson also acknowledged that some folks might prefer private sales because they aren’t logged in any federal database.

“They don’t want that intrusion into their personal lives,” he said.

The ‘gun show loophole’

Illinois is one of 17 states that have enacted laws to attempt to close the “gun show loophole.”

The loophole is actually focused on private sales, but gets its “gun show” identifier because most gun shows are a hub for private, background-check-free sales across the country.

Gun shows in Illinois don’t allow private vendors to conduct sales without checks, though. State law says that every sale at a gun show has to be accompanied by a background check.

Rich Walker, owner of DNR Guns & Ammo in Normal, says that he’s heard rumors of private sellers coming near gun shows – but not inside – to make sales. If they make their private sale outside the show, a background check isn’t required.

However, the rifle association’s Pearson says, “I’ve never heard of that happening.”

But it’s obviously a big enough to concern for gun show organizers to do something about it: Walker says that the last gun show he went to had officials checking the parking lot and public traffic to make sure no under-the-table sales were going down.

Gov. Pat Quinn has talked about banning gun shows from public land in Illinois.

Todd Vandermyde, the NRA’s chief lobbyist in the state, says that this would decrease the number of gun shows in the Land of Lincoln, limiting both the official and unofficial markets they host.

Enforcing private sale laws

Illinois does have a few laws on the books regulating private sales.

Even so, Chicago operates by a different set of rules than the rest of the state: In Chicago, all private sales must be done through licensed dealers – thus making sure that all record keeping is done, and legal requirements met.

In the rest of Illinois, private sellers have to do a few things.

First of all, they have to keep a record of all of their business. That record has to include the date of the sale, contact information for the purchaser, the purchaser’s Firearm Owners Identification Card number, the price and description of the firearm and an outlining of “the purpose for which [the firearm] was obtained.”

Sellers are supposed to keep this record on file for 10 years, and should be able to produce it on demand – when or if peace officers come calling.

Sgt. Matthew Boerwinkle, spokesman for the Illinois State Police, says that there’s no real structure for these inquiries.

“Generally, if an officer is going to ask about that, it’s going to be in relation to an investigation,” he said. “I’ve never heard of them doing random checks.”

If an investigation does take place and the record holder has been found guilty of falsifying purchaser information, they’re charged with a felony. Penalties are determined on a case-by-case basis, Boerwinkle said.

Sellers are also supposed to abide by the state law regarding waiting periods, the same law that applies to licensed dealers: purchasers have to wait 72 hours for delivery of a handgun and 24 hours for a rifle or shotgun.

The state police offered no information about how they monitor and enforce these waiting periods, other than to say that they “would make arrests if warranted.”

Illinois law also states that private sellers are prohibited from selling firearms or ammunition to an individual who is deemed ineligible for purchase by local, state or federal laws.

Some federal legislation is pending that would make penalties for the aforementioned much steeper.

Legislation pending

In January, Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois and Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New York introduced The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 in the Senate.

The law would make selling firearms to someone the seller knows shouldn’t be able to buy them a federal offense. The law would also make buying firearms in violation of law a federal offense.

A maximum prison sentence of 20 years may be imposed for the crimes.

Harsher penalties could be imposed upon ringleaders of trafficking operations – and the legislation calls for increased penalties when the crime is committed with involvement from gangs, cartels or organized crime.

The bill has been assigned to committee.

State legislation restricting private sales was defeated in 2008.

Advocates for universal background checks in Illinois, which would require checks for all private sales, are still working.

“We’ve been trying to do it for years,” said Daley of the Illinois Coalition Against Handgun Violence.

There are currently a few universal background check bills working their way through the Illinois General Assembly.

The major opposition, Daley says, is the inconvenience background checks would impose on private sellers.

To that, she says opponents should consider the “inconvenience” experienced by families who have lost loved ones to gun violence.