City Council adds hurdles to setting up gun ranges in Evanston


Source: City of Evanston

Aldermen approved in June five city lots viable for gun ranges to open their business in the city with a special-use permit. Last week, the council passed regulations on obtaining a gun-range license.

Julia Jacobs, City Editor

Aldermen voted last week to add several requirements for gun ranges to obtain a license in Evanston, continuing an effort to regulate potential gun sales in the city following evolved federal and state gun laws.

After an Illinois Supreme Court decision legalizing concealed carry in the state, City Council approved in June five regions in which gun ranges could set up shop with a special-use permit. Last week, aldermen voted to bolster regulations on those potential gun ranges, including application requirements, license conditions, insurance requirements and right of inspection.

“We can’t ban them entirely, but we can regulate them. And we should regulate them as much as possible,” Ald. Brian Miller (9th) said. “We are going to be watching them like a hawk if they should come to town.”

The two-phase process of regulating gun sales and instruction started at the beginning of the summer, when aldermen restricted gun ranges to within 350 feet of certain residentially zoned districts, as well as schools, child daycare facilities or public parks with special-use permits. At the Sept. 21 meeting, the council added extra hurdles that Miller said he hopes will deter potential gun ranges from even applying for space in Evanston.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said the regulations are meant to limit rather than condone gun use in the city.

“If you don’t have a rule as to where they could be, someone could come in and make an argument that it can be anywhere,” Wilson said. “If you ask me, I think we should have the ability to limit what kind of guns people should have, but the Supreme Court doesn’t agree with me.”

In a September 2013 decision, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that the state’s ban on carrying guns outside the home is unconstitutional due to its violation of the Second Amendment. Illinois was the last state in the country to lift its ban on concealed carry outside the home after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 for an individual’s right to possess a firearm.

“The fallout of that is that local jurisdiction has had to jump into the fanfare and regulate them pretty much any way we can,” Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said.

Several members of the community opposed the council’s decision earlier in the summer, Wilson said. Despite the council’s effort to limit gun instruction and sales as much as possible, individuals voiced concern in the council chambers and on social media over loosening gun laws in the city, he said.

One local gun-violence prevention organization, People for a Safer Society, was involved in working with the city’s law department in crafting the recently passed rules and regulations, Grover said. The group started shortly after the shooting of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, nearly three years ago, said Denyse Stoneback, the group’s founder.

Stoneback said her group worked with the city to increase the distance required between gun ranges and residential areas or buildings, such as schools and daycare centers. While the minimum distance of 250 feet in the first draft of the regulations was inadequate to protect the community, Stoneback said she worries that 350 feet still is not enough.

While Stoneback said more local municipalities should follow Evanston’s lead in addressing firearm ordinances, she thinks the task would be better dealt with at the state level. The state requires that all individuals have either a concealed handgun permit or a firearm owner’s ID card to purchase or possess a gun or ammunition, but there are no laws regulating gun dealers themselves.

However, there is currently a bill in both the Illinois House and Senate that would create a license for gun dealers and ammunition sellers to do business in the state.

Without the state regulating gun dealers, Stoneback said it is a challenge for densely populated cities like Evanston with many schools and public parks to institute the safest ordinances that allow for any firearms ranges and dealers at all in the city. Municipalities are left without the safest possible ordinances because city officials are trying to avoid a de facto ban, she said.

“For consistency’s sake and for public safety it really should be determined on a larger scale,” Stoneback said. “Really what we need to see in this area are state regulations.”

Miller said although it will take time for the public to come to terms with the new legal environment surrounding guns in the state, the total effect of the new regulations should be effective in making it safe for the community should a gun range come to Evanston.

“We’re doing the best we can given the current culture around guns,” Miller said.

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