Rochelle gun shop Down Range, LLC navigating firearm legislation changes

Rochelle gun shop Down Range, LLC has been dealing with the impacts of the legislation for the past eight months. When the legislation came down, 11 percent of the shop’s inventory sold was AR-15-related. Those items are now banned. Down Range Owner Matt Gerard called dealing with the legislation “stressful to say the least.”

‘We don't have a clear definition of what falls under the ban’

ROCHELLE — On Aug. 11, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the state’s assault weapon ban that was put in place early this year. 

The law characterizes dozens of firearms as assault weapons and prevents their manufacture and sale in Illinois. Devices used to make guns fire more rapidly are also banned under the law. Anyone who already owned one of the banned weapons prior to the law’s Jan. 10 effective date will be able to keep it but will be required to register it with the Illinois State Police.

The legislation is still facing challenges at the federal stage, including potential consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Rochelle gun shop Down Range, LLC has been dealing with the impacts of the legislation for the past eight months. When the legislation came down, 11 percent of the shop’s inventory sold was AR-15-related. Those items are now banned. Down Range Owner Matt Gerard called dealing with the legislation “stressful to say the least.”

“The worst part of the whole situation is the ISP refusing to answer any questions about what's legal and what's not,” Gerard said. “I asked about a weapon recently and if it was banned and was told they wouldn't release any formal statement on if it was banned. The big issue we're running into is people are trying to buy regular firearms and we don't have a clear definition of what falls under the ban. I don't think the intent was to include certain things, but now that we're starting to see the real face of this, a lot more was included that was not intended to be included. Until the ISP comes and gives a formal statement to everyone on what exactly is included, we don't know.”

The ban doesn’t apply to current and former law enforcement officers. For people in the general population that already own the now-banned firearms and items, the registration period is slated to start Oct. 1 with the ISP. Gerard said he hasn’t heard any word on the registry system. 

The uncertainty of which items can or can’t be sold has caused Gerard to err on the side of caution due to fear that a transaction could eventually be considered illegal. 

“This is my sole income,” Gerard said. “I now have six employees. I'm not going to screw that up because you bought a shotgun and didn't read the fine print in the law and confirm the transfer could even be made. I have to make sure the transfer is legal. Right now we're in this really lousy place, which sucks for normal people because they don't know what they can and can't buy and where they can and can't buy it. Without the ISP giving us a yes or no answer, they're limiting my ability to sell items that could potentially be completely legal and fine. I'm not in the position where I can risk my license and freedom because they won't give a clear answer.”

Gerard has taken issue with some of the items included in the ban that he considers “very commonplace” such as semiautomatic shotguns used for deer hunting and clay pigeon shooting. 

“We're not talking about machine guns,” Gerard said. “We're talking about a shotgun that holds six rounds. It's a pain because people come in here and blame us. We have to vy on the side of caution because the ISP unilaterally controls one of our licenses. And if I lose my state license, I automatically lose my federal license at the exact same time. As to how we're changing business, we're just kind of pushing full speed ahead on the stuff that we still can sell. The economy hasn't been great the past eight months to a year. Industry-wide firearm sales have dropped. We've kind of readjusted to finding more budget-friendly, but still-quality items to keep on the shelves to sell people. That's helped to keep things moving forward.”

It is Gerard’s hope that second-amendment based lawsuits against the Illinois ban are heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and succeed, striking the state gun legislation down. 

Down Range still has inventory from eight months ago that is now unable to be sold, except to law enforcement. If law enforcement has a need that Down Range doesn’t have in its inventory, Gerard said the Illinois ban has made that process more difficult with many distributors refusing to ship now-banned items to gun shops in Illinois due to the law. 

When customers come into the shop, Gerard tells them to keep their eyes open for the Oct. 1-Jan. 1 registration period to stay in legal possession of what they own, and to err on the side of caution. 

“I'd say probably 50-60 percent of the total population of this area is going to be affected by this,” Gerard said. “Everybody and their brother hunts or shoots casually or competitively. Coyote hunting is huge in this area, and all of those people use AR-15s for that and have for years. They're super commonplace and the months prior to the legislation saw people coming and buying them because they wouldn't be able to after the legislation. We sold tons of them in the last couple of weeks before the law took effect. It's a huge chunk.”