Changes to the Evanston zoning ordinance permitting the location of firing ranges, and gun sales within those firing ranges, were introduced at the June 8 City Council meeting on the consent agenda and without objection. The proposed changes come as a result of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and a consequent change in Illinois law permitting conceal-carry of firearms.

“We have to address it,” explained City attorney Michelle Masoncup. “We cannot sit silent. [We are] trying to protect you [citizens] as much as possible or [gun shops] could be placed some place you do not want.”

Under interpretations of the new Illinois law and court decisions, the absence of a reference to gun shops in a zoning ordinance could result in a ruling allowing such shops in any retail zoning area. By addressing the issue in the zoning code, and strictly limiting gun sales to locations within firing ranges, the City can limit possible locations for gun sales.

As has been pointed out by Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and others in previous meetings, shops like Target, hardware stores and other large retail establishments sell guns in other jurisdictions, and absent a limitation in the Evanston zoning code, such shops could conceivably sell guns here. The new firing range zoning ordinance is designed to eliminate that possibility.

None of the prior versions of the proposed zoning changes made City Council happy, but tailoring the permitted industrial zone locations too narrowly could result in constitutional challenges, City Attorney Grant Farrar said at earlier meetings. A zoning provision so narrow as to eliminate the possibility of such a use could be ruled unconstitutional.

The new zoning provision would, if passed, permit firing ranges in certain industrial zoned areas and at least 350 feet away from any school, park, day care facility or residential zoned area (R1, 2 or 3). Within permitted locations, the use must still go through the special-use permit process – gun ranges would not be an “as of right” use anywhere in the City.

Under the proposed changes, gun shops and the sale of guns and ammunition would be permitted only in firing ranges. According to the City’s legal department, this restriction should survive any challenges because a similar limitation survived a legal challenge in Chicago.

“As hard as it is for any of us to imagine that there would be a firearms range in Evanston,” said Alder man Jane Grover, whose Seventh Ward does not contain any areas in which a range would be allowed under the proposed ordinance, such a business must still go through “the elaborate and extensive process” necessary to obtain a permit “as a special use.”

Even the very limited permitted area caused Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, to question some of the possible locations for a special-use firing range. “Check  the  area – it’s in pink,” he said, referring to the map attached to the staff memo indicating “theoretical areas” in which  a range could locate. One area is “the dog park area operated by Skokie” and “an adjacent area used by rowing teams” on the sanitary canal off of Oakton Street just east of McCormick Boulevard. Given its recreational use and park area, Ald. Tendam questioned that particular pink patch on the map.

Eliminating the rowing/dog park patch would leave only three remaining swatches of pink – in the far southwest corner of Evanston behind the 415 Howard building, in the Dodge/Greenleaf industrial area just south of Evanston Plaza and near Lyons between Darrow and Ashland avenues.

All areas that pass the 350-foot test within industrial zoned areas must be included, said Ms. Masoncup, “because it’s an outright ban otherwise.” The special-use process allows City Council to raise concerns such as the dog park or rowing uses, she added.

No one expects a firing range to locate in Evanston any time soon, but the new zoning provision will prevent a more likely possible use – a standalone gun shop – by allowing such an establishment only within a theoretical firing range.  Should the measure pass as expected next meeting, the restriction will be in place and on the record, and the possibility of gun shops as a matter of right within retail districts will have been averted.

City Council is likely to vote on this zoning change next month.