Despite approval, Niles gun range still under fire

A woman shoots a handgun at a firing range in the Philippines. | AP Photo/Bullit Marquez
A woman shoots a handgun at a firing range in the Philippines. | AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

A month after the Niles Village Board approved a gun range’s application to open up in the village, its existence remains a controversial topic.

During the Aug. 26 Niles Board of Trustees meeting, Mayor Andrew Przybylo indicated that the village government may consider a moratorium on any future gun shop applications. And during the public comment session, a number of people spoke out against the Sportsman’s Club and Firearms Training Academy, urging the board to withdraw its approval. Most of the speakers belonged to People For a Safer Society, a northwest suburban group that seeks to reduce gun violence through stronger gun control measures.

People For a Safer Society member and Niles resident Cory Hance took his complaint a step further, arguing that the board violated a Cook County ordinance, and filing a complaint with the Cook County State’s Attorney. The village indicated that it’s currently looking into the allegations.

At the start of the meeting, Przybylo said that he understood that many residents were still concerned about the gun shop. He said the village government officials and the Niles Police Department Chief would be meeting with legal experts to come up with the best ways to enforce existing firearm-related laws, particularly laws regarding firearm sales.

Przybylo also said that village government is considering looking at the current ordinance regulating special use permits for gun shops, and potentially putting a moratorium on issuing permits altogether.

“The board is look to tighten the up the ordinance and also look at a moratorium for such shops,” he said.

Przybylo finished his statement by assuring Niles residents that the board listened to their concerns.

“We are trying to do the right thing,” he said. “Believe us — it is important to me that you have confidence in this board.”

Przybylo did not stay all the way through the meeting, leaving about halfway through to due to what he described as a “prior engagement.” Trustee Joe LoVerde took over as board president with Przybylo out, so when the public was allowed to comment on non-agenda items at the very end of the meeting, the mayor wasn’t present.

While several residents spoke on topics other than the gun shop, the comments session was dominated by People For a Safer Society members. Group founder and president Denyse Wang Stoneback argued that the vote went against popular opinion and failed to satisfy the special permit criteria. She also argued that the board underestimated the danger of having gun ranges in the community.

“Shootings in the U.S. are on the rise,” she said. “Numerous school shooters have come to [gun] ranges to hone their skills.”

Stoneback requested that the village cancel Sportsman’s Club permit.

Garrett Evans, of Chicago, survived the Virginia Tech massacre and has since spoken out in support of gun control on number of occasions. During the comment session, he argued that bullying has gotten worse in recent years, and the victims are more likely to fight back with guns.

“I am against [the gun shop], not only because of the proximity to schools, but because kids are bullied to the level you couldn’t fathom,” he said. “Kids are being bullied much younger, and this hurt is seething for many years.”

Jenny Lee, who recently moved to Niles with her husband, said that she’s been disappointed with the board’s recent decisions. She also argued that the board didn’t do enough to reach out to Niles’ immigrant communities, citing the Korean American community as an example. Until Korean-language media reported on the issue, she said, most of them had no idea about the gun shop.

Hance went a step further, arguing that the village didn’t have the authority to permit gun shops due to conflicts with Cook County Code of Ordinances. Section 54-154(b) of the code forbids gun shops from being located within a mile of a public school, a private school or a public park.

However, Section 54-92 makes it clear that home rule municipalities such as Niles are exempt if they have “a separate municipal ordinance specifically regulating the licensing of firearms dealers.”

Earlier this year, the Niles Board of Trustees passed an ordinance changing the existing village gun shop regulations. However, those regulations are part of an appendix that includes all special use permit requirements.

Village of Niles spokeswoman Hayley Gerard said that the village is looking into Hance’s allegations

“We’re going to look into the allegations,” she said. “If more research is necessary, we will do research, but our lawyer is confident that it won’t be the case. At this time, there won’t be any impact.”

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