SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would require the state to license gun shops, a move viewed by some to solidify his standing with Republican voters a week ahead of the primary election while inviting criticism from Democrats.

He first revealed his plans Tuesday morning in an interview with WJPF radio in southern Illinois. Rauner said the measure, which was sent to him a couple weeks ago after passing the General Assembly, was unnecessary and burdensome.

“We’ve been doing a lot of homework, doing a lot of research on this. And I have decided that I am vetoing that bill,” Rauner said. “It’s just not right. It’s unnecessary, burdensome regulation. It’s redundant on top of existing federal regulations, it’s crushing to our small-business owners and creates bureaucracy that really doesn’t help make our community safer.”

The measure would have required gun dealers to get licensed in a way similar to auto dealers and Realtors. A simultaneously passed trailer bill set a $1,000 cap on licensing fees within a five-year period.

Proponents argued it was a common-sense bill meant to ensure professional standards were being maintained at gun shops, while critics said the fee would punish small businesses and the state would have to invest millions of dollars it doesn’t have to hire inspectors.

The bill was supported by most Democrats, along with a few suburban Republicans. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Cardinal Blase Cupich actively lobbied for its passage.

The veto announcement comes just one week ahead of the primary election, perhaps helping Rauner re-establish his conservative bonafides with Republican voters. Rauner has taken some heat from his own party in the past for signing House Bill 40, which allowed for the taxpayer funding of abortion, and the Trust Act, which prevents law enforcement from detaining individuals solely based on their immigration status.

Rauner faces conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, who’s been running to his political right, in next week’s primary.

Democrats were swift and scathing in their responses to the veto, saying that Rauner put politics ahead of safety with the action.

“The governor’s decision was cruel, it was cold and it was calculated to benefit his own politics at the expense of public safety,” Emanuel said. “This veto is a slap in the face to crime victims, faith leaders and police who have pleaded with Governor Rauner to protect public safety by signing the Gun Dealer Licensing Act. This failure will be his legacy.”

JB Pritzker, the billionaire candidate leading the polls ahead of next week’s Democratic gubernatorial primary election, said the action shows “empty rhetoric and absent leadership” on the part of Rauner.

“High schoolers are leading a nationwide movement and parents in our state are demanding change, but Bruce Rauner has provided nothing but empty rhetoric and absent leadership,” Pritzker said. “This is a governor who is telling children across the state that he cares more about winning his primary than doing his job to protect them.”

State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, also running in next week’s Democratic primary, said Rauner weighed “political consequences in the absence of any moral conviction” on the issue.

“Instead of standing up to do what’s right, he’s putting his fealty to the NRA first, once again proving himself a coward incapable of governing," Biss said.

Businessman Chris Kennedy called it a “disgusting veto” meant to win a primary election. He said that it will be met with protest.
“Students across Illinois will walk out of class tomorrow to protest this decision and urge our elected leaders to take action to prevent the next shooting,” Kennedy said. “I stand with those students. Springfield has abandoned its leadership role in our state and it’s the students who are showing us the way forward.”

Instead of the licensing bill, Rauner has suggested “common sense” gun reforms such as tougher sentencing for repeat gun offenders and providing armed guards at schools. Rauner has also in the past indicated he would support a bump stock ban, which passed the House a few weeks ago.

The governor also asked leaders in the House and Senate to appoint four members from each caucus to a 16-person panel to develop legislative proposals dealing with public safety.

“Safety is not a partisan issue,” Rauner said. “It is an obligation, and we owe it to our citizens to come together to ensure their protection. I urge our legislators to join with me so we can get to work on this critical mission.”

The gun licensing bill now heads back to the Senate. State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, its chief sponsor, said he will call for an override of the governor’s veto.

If there is a vote, it likely will have to be in the next few days. Since the Senate is in session, they only have 15 days to take action on the veto, which presents a potential conflict as the body is scheduled to be adjourned for three weeks once they gavel out this Thursday.

Yet it will be a tough climb regardless as the measure, SB1657, passed both houses with less than veto-proof majorities. But, Harmon believes the tides are shifting.

“I think the mood is changing and I think suburban voters in particular are rising up and saying enough is enough, we demand our legislators do the right thing,” Harmon said. “So I'm hoping that some of my Republican Senate colleagues, particularly in those suburbs, will stand up and be counted and join me in overriding the governor's veto.”

Senators plan to walk out of the Illinois Capitol on Wednesday morning to protest gun violence in solidarity with high school students doing the same across the country.