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Aldermen at the June 22 City Council meeting unanimously approved zoning changes to allow firing ranges within the City of Evanston.
Under the ordinance, guns may be rented or sold in the City only at a firing range and only by a firearm dealer.
As indicated on the accompanying map, (page11) only a few spots in Evanston (shown in pink) meet the locational requirements for a special use for a firing range.
Several Council members indicated their distaste for the ordinance, which City attorneys had previously assured them was necessary under State law. At the June 8 meeting, when the ordinance was introduced, City attorney Michelle Masoncup said, “We have to address it. …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.”
Without specific zoning, it might be possible that a gun shop – or the sale of guns, by a big box store, for example – could be allowed in any retail area. Moreover, City Attorney Grant Farrar said at earlier meetings that a zoning provision so narrow as to eliminate the possibility of a firing range in any part of the City could be ruled unconstitutional. They have said, however, they believe Evanston’s ordinance will survive a constitutional challenge.
The new zoning provision permits 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.
During the citizen comment period of the meeting, speakers vioced their concerns about the ordinance. Lauren Barski said she felt the one articulation of a distance requirement was unclear. That concern was later cleared up through an amendment to the ordinance proposed by Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward.
Denyse Stoneback of Skokie, founder of People for a Safer Society, renewed a request she had made of City Council in March that the City incorporate business standards into its firearms ordinance. “Business operation requirements have been upheld by the court, including age restrictions and a requirement for the range master to be present during all operating hours. … Other requirements, such as anti-theft safety plans, videotaping of all sales, employee background checks and training, and inventory audits can reduce the chances that guns from a dealer will end up in the hands of criminals.
“Holding gun dealers accountable for their business practices is incredibly important in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, because gun dealers represent a major source of illegally trafficked firearms. … Illegal trafficking of guns could be substantially reduced with better oversight of gun dealers. … I think people fear litigation because of the many bogus claims and thinly veiled threats by gun groups. But the reality is that good regulation of guns is good policy and necessary for public safety.”
“Holding gun dealers accountable for their business practices is incredibly important in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, because gun dealers represent a major source of illegally trafficked firearms.”
Stephen Young, who moved from Evanston to Skokie after his son, age 19, was shot and killed on Howard Street, said some weapons manufacturers sell “junk guns” and some firearms dealers trade in them – without registering the handguns or following other mandates. He asked that the City of Evanston use caution in licensing firearms sellers.
Before the aldermen unanimously approved the ordinance, some questions remained.
Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam noted that the Pooch Park area is one of the pink ones. He said, “We can’t have [a firing range] there.” Skokie leases that area, southwest of Sam’s Club, from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, though the park is operated jointly by Evanston and Skokie. “Some of Skokie’s ordinances are a lot weaker,” he added.
Ms. Masoncup said, “Skokie enacted a firing-range ordinance in 2014. It does not have restrictions regarding parks.”
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, praised the Evanston Police Department’s efforts in getting illegal guns off the street. “A couple of weeks ago a couple of guys shot up the 300 block of Custer.
“They fled. Our excellent police department chased them down. … The Police Department has confiscated four fully loaded guns in two weeks. Anything we can do to address this problem … People are walking around with loaded guns. It just seems to be getting closer and closer.”
Noting that there is a lot of multi-family housing in the south part of Evanston, Ald. Rainey asked if it was possible to ban firing ranges within 350 feet of the R-5 and R-6 zoning districts, for larger apartment buildings. Adding those districts to the ban, Ms. Masoncup responded, would make the City have a “complete ban,” something that could open it up to lawsuits.
“I think it’s important for people in our community to let people know the market for businesses. Our message is clear: There’s not a market for this in our community,” said Ald. Wilson.
“I think this is making the best of a bad situation,” said Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl appeared to echo that sentiment. “I wish we could outlaw guns, but we can’t. I think we’re doing the best we can.”
Ald. Wilson also said, “It’s my expectation that City staff will be developing operational parameters” for firing ranges.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, made a recommendation to the Planning and Development Committee “to develop the regulations and code of conduct” regarding firing ranges.