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City Council panel OKs gun range ordinance

Updated: July 5, 2011 4:44PM

Gun ranges would be free to operate in Chicago, but only in areas zoned for manufacturing under rigid conditions, thanks to a mayoral plan rushed through a City Council committee Tuesday to avoid an adverse court ruling.

Two federal lawsuits have been filed challenging the ban on gun ranges in a city whose residents are now required to complete a firearms training course in order to obtain a gun permit.

That forces Chicago gun owners to travel to suburban gun ranges.

If the city waits for the ban on gun ranges to be overturned, it would be in the unenviable position of having the court dictate an ordinance that could be far less restrictive.

That’s not an outcome that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is prepared to risk.

On Tuesday, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee reluctantly approved an ordinance directly introduced to committee, a rarely-used shortcut normally reserved for emergencies.

It would allow gun ranges, but only with special use permits that require public hearings.

Chicago ranges would be confined to areas zoned for manufacturing, but that’s only the baseline. Gun ranges would also be prohibited within 1,000 feet of a school, park, place of worship, day care center, liquor store, library, museum, hospital or residential district.

The mayor’s ordinance also mandates that Chicago gun ranges be enclosed and mandates the type of construction. They could operate, only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.

With those restrictions, aldermen unanimously approved the ordinance. But, that doesn’t mean they were thrilled about it. Far from it.

“We don’t want them to be de-facto sales for ammunition, where anyone can walk in, fire five shots and walk out with 200 rounds of ammunition that could be re-sold on the street. ... That’s ammunition that could be used against citizens or police,” said Ald. Harry Osterman (48th).

“We’re in the summer months when crime escalates. We’re very concerned. ... We want to make sure these are safe and well-regulated. ... I don’t know that anyone wants to have gun ranges in our city. ... But, [for] law-abiding citizens who want to be trained to protect their families — whether it’s with a long-gun or a handgun — there needs to be facilities for them to do it.”

Although Chicago gun ranges would be free to sell ammunition only for use at the facility, Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago Police officer, said, “What I’m worried about is the restrictiveness of it and our ability to enforce.”

The National Rifle Association branded the ordinance so restrictive, it invites another lawsuit.

“This is protected constitutional activity. If the city wants to continue to deny it, as they have with their revised gun ordinance, then obviously they haven’t learned anything from court rulings and our tenacity,” said Todd Vandermyde, Illinois legislative liaison for the NRA.

“The city is already on the hook for big-time legal fees in the McDonald case [that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Chicago’s handgun ban]. When you have a multi-million dollar deficit, you should be trying to find ways to minimize litigation instead of inviting more litigation.”

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