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On March 9 Evanston City Council wrestled with two aspects of firearm regulation by introducing an ordinance that would permit firing ranges under the zoning code in very limited circumstances and allow the sale of weapons at such hypothetical locations. At the same time, the City appeared to abandon efforts to ban firearms in multi-family buildings.

According to a memo from the legal department, “The City prudently followed all state law requirements as the regulatory framework for the implementation of the FCCA [the concealed carry law] took shape over the past year.” The memo also says the federal district court in Chicago has issued many opinions regarding constitutionally permissible regulations for sale and discharge of firearms.

As a result, the law department determined that the City must, as a matter of law, specifically identify where gun ranges would be permitted as a special use in the City’s zoning code, said Assistant City Attorney Michelle Masoncup. Gun shops would then also need to be identified in the zoning code. The proposed ordinance “only allows the sales of guns and ammo at gun ranges,” said Ms. Masoncup.

“It’s a sad day. A really sad day,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, at an Administration and Public Works committee meeting that preceded the full Council meeting. In other parts of the country, national stores with presence in Evanston, such as Target and Sam’s Club, sell guns, but “over the years it has been very clear that we don’t allow the sale of guns or ammunition in Evanston,” she said.

Under the proposed ordinance, the latest initiative under consideration by the City, gun ranges would be permitted only as a special use in limited industrial-zoned (I-1, I-2 and I-3) areas within Evanston. By extension, gun sales would only be permitted in those limited areas. Ranges could not operate within 250 feet of a residential area, school, park or day care facility.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, as well as several other speakers, said 250 feet was not far enough. The Zoning Code prohibits the sale of tobacco and alcohol within 500 feet of school and parks, she said, and the gun range prohibition should be “at least as far as” that, she said. A 500-foot limit has been upheld by the courts in Chicago, said Ms. Masoncup.

While most speakers called for even stricter limits on the placement of gun ranges, a speaker representing Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, Joel Segal, called the ordinance “anti-Semitic” and threatened to sue the City over it. As far as anyone knows, he said, there’s “not an application for a gun range or gun shop in Evanston.” By applying such a strict geographic limit on any future such application, the City opens itself to litigation, he said. “Do you want … large attorney bills? Because we’ll be happy to sue.”

“Did you just threaten to sue us? Is that what happened?” asked Ald. Rainey. “Trust me, I understand every word that you’re saying. Guns are scary in my city.”

Denise Stoneback, speaking in favor of greater restrictions, said the ordinance “sends a message that guns are acceptable.” Both the City of Chicago and Cook County have greater restrictions that the Evanston proposal, she said.

Under the ordinance with a 250-foot buffer, only very limited areas would be available to prospective gun range operators. And all are currently occupied. The largest spots would be off of Oakton near McCormick, off of Greenleaf west of Dodge between Main Street and Dempster, and just north of Dempster, and a small patch south of Emerson just east of Dodge. All hypothetical requests would be required to go through the special use permit process.

“We haven’t done the calculations” for a 500-foot buffer, said Ms. Masoncup. Given the paucity of available areas under a 250-foot buffer, it seems unlikely that any industrial zoned area would be available with a larger buffer. The Committee voted to hold the measure pending such calculations.

Regarding firearms in multi-family buildings, the staff memo says: “The City cannot enact regulations applicable to multi-family or multi-story residences, apartments, or condominiums, which impose additional limits or conflict with state laws governing the possession and carrying of firearms or handguns.”

Ald. Rainey asked a different question. “The owner of a building can ban smoking” in a residential building, she said. “Can an owner ban firearms?” The legal department promised an answer shortly.

Regarding businesses, current law allows owners to ban firearms.