Owner of Rochelle gun shop Down Range, LLC reacts to firearm legislation

Matt Gerard estimates that 10 percent of his sales since opening Rochelle gun shop Down Range, LLC in May 2022 came from guns and items that will now be illegal under new state gun legislation that bans the sale and manufacture of assault weapons in Illinois.

‘10 percent of what I’ve sold since opening is illegal under the new legislation’

ROCHELLE — Matt Gerard estimates that 10 percent of his sales since opening Rochelle gun shop Down Range, LLC in May 2022 came from guns and items that will now be illegal under new state gun legislation that bans the sale and manufacture of assault weapons in Illinois. 

If the legislation holds up against a number of lawsuits that have been filed, Illinois gun shops such as Down Range will no longer be allowed to sell high-power assault weapons, .50 caliber rifles and ammunition, and large-capacity magazines and other items. Gerard, the owner of the Cherry Avenue gun shop, called the legislation a “kick in the teeth” to his business. 

“For us, it makes up a good chunk of our business,” Gerard said. “We ran the numbers when the law came into play. We've been open since May 18, a little over six months now. 10 percent of our sales went towards sporting rifle-specific purchases. This new law doesn't just ban the sale of the actual firearms. It's components and anything that is AR-15, AK-47 specific. That portion of my sales was a great thing to feel in my first year of business and now I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me."

Gerard said AR-15s are popular in the area with customers, including hunters and farmers.

“They're incredibly popular in this area, and not just for grins,” Gerard said. “A lot of people use them for hunting on a regular basis. There are a lot of farmers around here and coyotes have been absolutely insane the past two years. They use these things for livestock protection. Can they use other guns? Sure. But it's a whole lot easier with that particular platform. It's lightweight, you can scope them, they're very accurate and you can do a ton of things with them. From a practical sense, they're great tools.” 

When the legislation was passed and signed, Gerard said his business fielded a lot of questions from customers on how the new law works and what it restricts. Down Range released videos on Facebook and YouTube explaining the changes.

The law’s quick passage and signage made for some confusion and some of Down Range’s customers were unaware it was even happening, Gerard said. But some were paying close attention, he said. 

"It's been a hot topic for everybody,” Gerard said. “A lot of people are angry at the state. Some people are angry at the supreme court. Everybody comes to vent. In the 11th hour, a ton of people came in and bought a ton of products. They did a run on our stuff. We were lucky enough to move a big chunk of what we had left in stock prior to that legislation being signed in.”

As of the bill’s signing, Gerard said sales and transfers of the now-illegal items can no longer happen. Owners of those items purchased prior to the legislation will have until Jan. 1, 2024 to register them with the state or face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and the degree of charges could increase based on the number of unregistered weapons.

Enforcement of the new legislation will be done by the Illinois State Police, which has handled firearm enforcement in the past. Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle and approximately 90 other county sheriffs across the state have said they will not be taking part in the law’s enforcement.

Gerard said he hopes to see a permanent stay on the legislation that would wipe it off the books, and/or a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against it that would set a precedent. An Effingham County judge has already issued a temporary restraining order against the state’s assault weapons ban that applies only to 800-plus plaintiffs in the case’s filing. The state filed to vacate the restraining order and is prepared to defend the legislation going forward.

Gerard called the assault weapons ban “disheartening” as a business owner and former law enforcement officer with a substantial background in firearms.

“I came from a law enforcement background of 15 years before I left to commit full time to this,” Gerard said. “It doesn't get a whole lot more law-abiding than that. I came up in the competition community, too. For the last 15 years I've either been at training events or competition events. I came up in the competition world where everybody was running this now-illegal equipment and it was seen as normal equipment."

Gerard said Jan. 23, two weeks since the legislation, that he has yet to hear from the ISP on questions he has about the law, which includes what he’s supposed to do with existing stock of now-illegal items.

The Down Range, LLC owner said “a lot of” the people he’s spoken to since the legislation’s signing said they don’t plan to register their already-owned items with the state as required.

Concealed carry, pistols and accessories, the primary sources of income for Gerard’s business, will continue to be legal, with the exception of some new magazine capacity restrictions on handguns. Despite the 10 percent loss he expects to take on now-illegal items, Gerard believes the new legislation could help sales of other items.

“I think the state just probably supercharged my business,” Gerard said. “I think everybody is now looking at this and saying, 'If they're going to do this, what are they going to do six months or a year from now?' I think you're going to see the biggest run on guns in Illinois history as a result of this legislation. Because everybody that is a law-abiding citizen that is looking at this is saying, 'I'm scared. I don't want to lose this opportunity.'”