Chicago aldermen on Wednesday put aside their fears of appearing to be soft on crime and relaxed the city’s rigid rules on where shooting ranges can be located and who can use them.
The City Council put off the politically volatile vote last month for fear of a backlash in a city struggling to control unrelenting gang violence that has caused homicides and shootings to soar.
“There was a question about some of the members fearful of their vote being described by political opponents as being in favor of guns, which is certainly not the case,” Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) said at the time of the parliamentary maneuver he used to delay the vote for one meeting.
“It has to be a little bit better explained to the members.”
On Wednesday, Burke delivered that explanation one more time and convinced his colleagues to do what a federal appeals court has ordered them to do.
There was no debate. Only Burke’s warning that aldermen had no choice.
“A ‘no’ vote is, in effect, a vote to leave the city with absolutely no meaningful zoning restrictions at all to gun ranges — truly a return to the Wild West,” Burke said.
The new ordinance authorizes shooting ranges 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.
The ordinance reads pretty much as it did when it passed committee with only two exceptions. First, business applicants do not need a F.O.I.D. card, even though every employee of the shooting range does. And second, operating hours will be determined on a case-by-case basis in the process of obtaining a special use permit that requires a public hearing after notifying area residents. The earlier version allowed shooting ranges to remain open between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.
In January, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the city’s existing restrictions are illegal and that there was no reason to bar minors accompanied by responsible adults.
During a committee hearing on the issue last month, 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 then.
Smith 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.
Ald. John Arena (45th) predicted that it would be an “interesting summer with applications” for special-use permits in a city where violence almost always spikes when temperatures rise.
“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?”