Chicago council approves firing ranges in the city

AP News
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Posted: Jul 06, 2011 7:48 PM
Chicago council approves firing ranges in the city

Chicago's decades-old campaign against guns/">handguns was dealt another blow Wednesday when the City Council was forced to approve an ordinance allowing residents to practice becoming better shooters.

At the urging of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the council voted to allow gun ranges in the city, anticipating that the federal appellate court in Chicago would strike down a provision of Chicago's year-old gun ordinance that requires residents to get training at firing ranges but prohibits ranges in the city.

Coincidentally, the appeals court ruled temporarily against the ban on ranges on the same day, signaling Wednesday that it would likely find the provision unconstitutional in response to lawsuits challenging it.

Emanuel said he pushed for the new gun measure even before the court handed down its ruling after his legal team told him the ban on ranges was likely to be rejected and might jeopardize other parts of a larger gun ordinance the council adopted last year after the U.S. Supreme Court went against the city's more sweeping gun ban.

"I did want to protect the other parts of the ordinance," Emanuel told reporters after the council voted to allow the ranges.

Another concern among city officials was that if they simply waited for the expected ruling by the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it would mean the gun ranges would be unregulated until the city crafted an ordinance to deal with the issue.

"If there are no regulations, there could be (things like) mobile shooting ranges... and what could we do to stop them?" said Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city's law department,

In fact, the new ordinance follows the lead of the overall gun regulations the city passed last July, just weeks after the Supreme Court's ruling made the city's 28-year-old gun ban unenforceable. Those regulations, championed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, included restrictions that officials said made it the strictest ordinance of its kind in the United States.

And the measure passed Wednesday has several restrictions of its own. For example, only indoor ranges are allowed and only in areas of the city zoned for manufacturing. Also, the ranges cannot be within 1,000 feet of schools, residential areas, hospitals, museums, libraries, parks and liquor stores.

In addition, range operators must pay $4,000 every other year for a license.

Despite Emanuel's contention that "gun control groups are in favor of the action we're taking," a lawyer representing a group that has challenged the city's gun regulations said the new gun-range ordinance will certainly be challenged in court.

"We will amend our complaint to challenge the over-restrictiveness of the ordinance," said attorney Walter Maksym, whose clients already are suing over the city's continued prohibition against selling guns in the city.

He said forcing private ranges to pay $4,000 for a license, which is far more than other businesses pay, is just another attempt to discourage gun ownership in the city.

"This is just like they did last July when they scurried to pass an overly restrictive gun ordinance" after the Supreme Court ruling, Maksym said. "It is fine to have reasonable restrictions but these restrictions ... amount to almost a prohibition."

James Balcer, the alderman who introduced the gun-range measure that passed Wednesday, said he is confident that it will hold up in court.

"We're trying to stay one step ahead," he said.