After a violent Easter weekend, Chicago aldermen on Monday reluctantly agreed to satisfy a federal court ruling by relaxing the city’s rigid rules on where shooting ranges could be located and who could use them.
If the full City Council approves the changes advanced by the License and Zoning Committee, shooting ranges would be authorized to locate in business, commercial, and manufacturing districts — and in select planned manufacturing districts — provided operators obtain a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The process to obtain that permit includes notifying surrounding residents, who would get a chance to voice their objections at a public hearing.
The amended ordinance also allows individuals under the age of 18 to enter shooting ranges, if accompanied and supervised by a parent or guardian or certified firearms instructor.
No commercial shooting ranges exist in Chicago, primarily because the rules are too tight. Currently, gun ranges are permitted only in industrial areas — and only if they are located at least 100 feet away from another range, and at least 500 feet away from places like private residences, schools, day care centers, houses of worship, liquor stores, parks, libraries, museums and hospitals.
In January, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that those restrictions are illegal and that there was no reason to bar minors accompanied by responsible adults.
Although the city’s hands were tied, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) made no effort to contain her anger.
“I appreciate the strength of the gun lobby and the gun laws in this country. [But] I do not understand why our previous attempt to restrict the locations of shooting ranges is being eliminated, particularly the limitation on schools, day care, liquor, libraries, museums and hospitals,” Smith said.
“We can restrict people from being around kids with liquor and things like that, but not guns? … What’s an alderman to do in a business district? I mean B-1 — that’s everywhere. [So is] B-2,” she said, referring the abbreviations for business-district zones.
Smith argued accused the appeals court of being “completely out of touch with the needs of cities and the protection of our children.”
“I can’t imagine what this next bunch of special use hearings are gonna look like if someone tries to bring a gun range into my neighborhood,” she said.
“I appreciate what you are all doing and I hope that we can continue to work to see whatever restrictions can be placed that we can succeed in having [to] help our community protect ourselves against gun violence.”
Ald. John Arena (45th) predicted that it would be an “interesting summer with applications” for special-use permits in a city plagued by unrelenting gun violence where there are no commercial shooting ranges.
“I have a number of M [manufacturing] districts … with residential provisions that have barred [shooting ranges] from coming in. But, I assume I’m gonna get applications on these,” Arena said.
“There’s a number of places that offer concealed carry licenses and training in my ward. My concern is, where do they go beyond just how to holster the thing, but [learn] how to shoot it accurately?”
Arena noted that recent court rulings have been to “allow these uses, allow the carrying of weapons in a concealed fashion.”
“All we can hope is that we, at some point, have a shift in that and we go without an incident where somebody is harmed because we see more proliferation of guns and some general acceptance of gun usage in our daily lives. I just think we’re moving in the wrong direction,” Arena said.
Deputy Corporation Counsel William Aguiar said the city tried mightily to defend the ordinance. But, there was no defense.
“This ordinance is in response to the 7th Circuit’s ruling, which was pretty definitive and clear as to what we had to do,” Aguiar said.
Aguiar noted that, in the context of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the standard of proof for the city was “pretty high.”
“It’s heightened scrutiny. We have to have substantial evidence showing that limiting them to M-ranges is proper. And the court said that we didn’t provide any sufficient studies or other testimony to meet that incredibly high burden, simply because there are no studies to support that position,” he said.