The Republican nominee for Illinois governor has held multiple events involving the gun store where the alleged Highland Park shooter acquired the semiautomatic rifle he allegedly used during a Fourth of July shooting spree.
Illinois GOP gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey held a January event at Red Dot Arms, a gun store in Lake Villa that’s about a 45-minute drive northwest of Highland Park. And in April, the company was involved in a gun raffle to benefit Bailey’s campaign.
It’s the same store where Robert “Bobby” Crimo III picked up the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 semiautomatic rifle he allegedly used to kill seven people and injure 47 others at a parade in Highland Park. As the Daily Beast first reported, he acquired the gun from Red Dot Arms after he bought it online from a retailer in Kentucky called budsgunshop.com. (Guns bought out of state must be shipped from one licensed gun dealer to another.)
It is purely coincidental that the gun allegedly used in Highland Park came from the same store that has ties to Bailey’s campaign. But it throws Bailey’s push to further deregulate guns in Illinois, as well as his bellicose campaign rhetoric that gun ownership is a key check against tyranny, into stark relief.
Bailey, a hard-right candidate who’s running against Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, won a hotly contested primary in June after former President Donald Trump endorsed him and Democrats boosted him with millions in advertising against a moderate candidate they feared could give Pritzker a tougher race. He has made opposition to gun control a key element of his gubernatorial campaign.
“I will die on my porch before I give up my guns,” Bailey said at a December event. At another rally he declared, “I will never, ever give up my AR-15 or any other gun”—a comment that made its way into a Democratic attack ad against him.
Bailey’s campaign held a gun-raffle campaign fundraiser in late April and posted footage of it online, but later deleted it. Red Dot Arms was listed as a partner for the event on a campaign flyer, along with two other gun stores.
“I want to give another wonderful shoutout to the sponsors that help make this possible,” Bailey said at the event. “Red Dot Arms. Support these local businesses, friends.”
One of the guns Bailey auctioned off at the event was an AR-15, which he described as “a beautiful rifle, certainly one that emulates freedom here in our country.”
The April event was just the latest of a number of gun raffles Bailey has held as part of his campaign. In 2019, he raffled off a Smith & Wesson AR-15—a make and model that’s nearly identical to the gun used by the alleged Highland Park shooter.
Red Dot Arms sells a range of AR-15s, AR-10s, and semiautomatic variations on the AK-47. It also has a wide range of right-wing and pro-militia merch, including stickers promoting the Three Percenters militia as well as the Blue Lives Matter flag and “Don’t tread on me” and “Come and take it” hats. The store also sells T-shirts with its logo—a target on an American flag—with the slogan “Wake up, America.”
Bailey also visited the gun store in January, along with his wife and running mate, posting photos of the campaign event afterwards. “Cindy and I made some phenomenal stops in Lake County today. We met with Steve, the owner of Red Dot Firearms in Lake Villa,” Bailey said on Facebook.
(Bailey seems to have misidentified an instructor at the training academy as the store’s owner. That instructor, Steve New, also appears to be in the video of the April event, wearing a Red Dot Arms T-shirt. New replied “no thank you” when emailed a set of questions and a request to discuss what role he’d played in supporting Bailey’s campaign.)
Actual Red Dot Arms owner Mike Rioux downplayed his company’s connections to both Bailey’s campaign and the Highland Park shooter. In a statement to VICE News, he said that his company didn’t donate any weapons for Bailey’s campaign raffle, while defending his store’s sale of semiautomatic rifles.
“Although the product Red Dot Arms sells is very misunderstood by the media and certain politicians, it’s just that, a product. A legal product. My company is not in the business of giving product away,” Rioux said in an email. “We sell firearms to law-abiding citizens upon approval from the Illinois State police. Both customers came to us. I don’t know how they found us.”
Rioux didn’t respond to questions asking him to explain why Bailey described his company as a “sponsor” of the raffle or what kind of gun the Bailey campaign had acquired from Red Dot Arms. Bailey’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Just weeks before the Highland Park shooting, Bailey voted against a bill to expand the requirements to receive an Illinois Firearm Owners Identification Card, known as an FOID card, that is a requirement to own guns in the state. He called the FOID program “an outdated requirement in a broken system” and claimed the bill showed Democrats were “willing to forge ahead by any and all means to chip away at our Second Amendment rights.” He’s introduced legislation to repeal the FOID card requirements, and his campaign sells t-shirts featuring an outline of a handgun with the slogan “Void the FOID.”
Bailey also voted against the creation of Illinois’ red flag law—a law that likely should have been used to keep the alleged shooter from buying a gun if law enforcement hadn’t dropped the ball after an earlier incident where he threatened to “kill everyone” in his family and had knives and a sword confiscated from him. Bailey blamed Pritzker for law enforcement’s failure to apply the law he voted against in this case.
“The Firearms Restraining Act would have prevented the tragedy on the Fourth, but you buried it. You left it moldering in some bureaucratic basement somewhere. Your watch, governor. It’s not enough to pass laws. You have to do the hard work to ensure that the laws do what they were intended to do,” Bailey said.
On the day of the shooting Bailey was in Skokie, one of the many nearby Chicago suburbs that canceled their parades out of fear that the shooter would strike again. The candidate immediately stirred controversy by saying “let’s move on” just two hours after the shooting, before the alleged gunman was arrested.
“The shooter is still at large, so let's pray for justice to prevail and then let’s move on and let’s celebrate the independence of this nation,” Bailey said immediately after the Highland Park shooting occurred on July 4.
Bailey quickly apologized for those remarks.
“I apologize if in any way we diminished the pain being felt across our state today,” he said in a statement to VICE News at the time. “I am heartbroken by today’s tragic events and the pain and loss felt by so many. My intent was to pray for the victims and those affected by today’s tragedy and for the shooter to be caught and prosecuted without further loss.”
Manisha Krishnan contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: This story initially misstated the name of the town where Red Dot Arms is located. It is Lake Villa.