WATERMAN – A new licensing requirement for Illinois gun shops is causing one local business owner to leave the state.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Jan. 17 that would require gun dealers to be licensed through Illinois in addition to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – a process that could cost them up to $1,500. The act will also require businesses that work with guns to install alarm and video systems, provide up to two hours of training for employees and keep an updated electronic record system starting July 17.
Brandon Haas, owner of Applied Arsenal Finishes, a shop that customizes firearms in Waterman, said he and his business will be long gone by then.
"It's hard to be a small business owner in Illinois," Haas said. "You start thinking about what's going to happen and how fragile everything is that you're building on and how it can be taken away or leveled all at one time at no fault of your own."
Applied Arsenal Finishes has done custom firearms work, such as paint finishes and manufactures gun parts and accessories, since 2015. Haas said he will move his business to Shepherd, Michigan, this month and will open again in August.
"Small businesses like us are the ones that create real jobs that never existed before," Haas said.
“We can prevent someone from buying a gun for someone else who is not legally allowed to own a gun,” Pritzker said when he signed the bill in January. “Many of the incidents of gun violence that occur in our city and all across our state occur with illegal guns.”
Although Haas' workshop is not a gun dealership, it still falls under the category of businesses regulated by the act because he makes gun parts, has dozens of guns in his workshop at a time and ships them to people.
Haas said he and his wife, Paige, started looking at properties in Michigan as soon as Pritzker announced his run for governor in April 2017. Pritzker vowed to reintroduce gun control legislation vetoed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner while on the campaign trail.
"When the bills didn't pass initially, I thought they would come knocking at our door in the next session and the next session," Haas said.
Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, Illinois House minority deputy, said he knew it would be difficult for small businesses to comply to the gun dealer licensing act. Demmer voted "no" on the legislation.
"We're not making it easy for them to continue to do business here," Demmer said. "It's important to draw the distinction between offenders with gun violence history and law abiding gun dealerships are are trying to serve the needs of law abiding gun owners."
Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) said the law is more about allowing the state to gather information on straw purchases than it is about punishing dealers. He said the ATF, the agency that audits gun shops, are overstretched in Illinois with fewer than two dozen agents who oversee Illinois dealers.
Richard Pearson, Illinois State Rifle Association executive director, said he has received phone calls and messages from more than 400 small gun dealers who are leaving the state this year. Many simply can't afford the licensing fee on top of operating costs and others are too old to adjust to the regulations, Pearson said.
"The little dealers are being driven out by the cost and the red tape," Pearson said. "That becomes a real problem for these people. Some of them are a little older, not computer savvy."
Haas said his brand went national after winning a competition sponsored by Unique-ARs in 2017 and he considered hiring two employees. However, the minimum wage increase signed into law Feb. 19, coupled with the upcoming licensing act, will make it too expensive for his business to expand, he said.
That is when "just looking" at properties turned into buying a house and a vacant lot in Shepherd where he built a new workshop.
"We started thinking, OK, this could shut down our business," Haas said. "This could impact the freedoms we enjoy in America and the financial independence my wife and I gain from our normal everyday jobs."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.