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Article updated: 3/24/2014 5:17 AM

Concealed carry requirements fuel debate over gun range

By Robert Sanchez

An influx of gun owners seeking the training needed to qualify for a concealed carry permit has gun ranges throughout the state struggling to keep up with the demand.

"Some facilities have had people waiting in their cars because they couldn't get them in the building," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.

Depending on the day of week, target shooters even have trouble getting range time at GAT Guns, which has the largest indoor gun range in Illinois.

"When you come at the height of a Saturday afternoon, there's usually a wait," said Greg Tropino president of the firearms store and shooting center in East Dundee.

Citing that new demand, a Roselle man wants to open a shooting sports facility in Bloomingdale.

"There's going to be between 600,000 and 800,000 people who are going to be looking for a concealed carry permit," said Julian Perez, a certified firearms instructor. "They are going to need some specialized training. We want to be there to provide it for them."

Perez is seeking Bloomingdale's permission to convert a vacant building at 7 N. Circle Ave. into a facility that would have two pistol ranges, a rifle range and a private range. The roughly 42,000-square-foot facility also would have classroom areas, a retail store, a library, a museum, and on-site gun repair and cleaning services. In addition, there would be separate areas for beginners to learn how to shoot using replica firearms.

But the plan has sparked controversy. Nearby neighbors argue that putting a gun range inside the former sheet metal fabricating building would create traffic, noise and other problems.

"We favor him opening a range," neighbor Tony Halachoulis said. "We just don't want him to do it there. Shooting next to a neighborhood like that is our main concern."

Bloomingdale's plan commission is reviewing the proposal and is expected to make a recommendation next month to the village board, which will have the final say.

Regardless of what happens in Bloomingdale, Pearson said there's a need for more gun ranges in the state.

"The ones that we have are doing a fine job, but they're full," he said.

In fact, he said, ranges already were getting heavy use before Illinois became the last state in the nation to pass a concealed carry law. That's because the number of people participating in shooting sports is on the rise.

"Shooting in general is more socially acceptable," said Randy Potter, general manager at GAT Guns. "It's less taboo than it was 10 years ago. So more people are doing it, especially in these urban environments that we're living in."

Taylor Roe, a manager at J.R. Shooting Sports in Aurora, said the business' 10-lane indoor range already was getting plenty of use when Illinois began talking about a concealed carry law.

As part of the law, which was passed last July, applicants must complete a 16-hour training course that includes time on a gun range.

So far, more than 45,800 concealed carry permit applications have been submitted to the state, according to Pearson.

Roe said J.R. Shooting Sports knew demand for range time would jump because of instructors needing to qualify their students for concealed carry.

"I don't know if we ever expected it to be this many people," said Roe, adding that there are waiting lists to use the range on the weekends.

Perez says his proposed facility -- dubbed The Range Bloomingdale -- would provide suburban residents another location to get gun-safety training and practice shooting sports.

"There's a huge void," Perez said. "My whole goal is to bring professionalism and provide a safe atmosphere for our residents."

Neighbors opposed to the project say they fear that the facility would be so busy that it could create traffic problems.

"Other ranges are filled up and their parking lots are overflowing at peak times," said Halachoulis, adding that neighbors don't want customers parking on residential streets.

In addition, the entrance to the site is off Circle Avenue. So there are worries that the flow the vehicles in and out of the property could be a threat to kids and other pedestrians.

"We're just afraid that somebody coming in and out of that parking lot isn't going to see someone walking by," Halachoulis said. "It's a safety issue."

The neighbors also have raised concerns about the possibility of excessive noise.

A consultant hired by Perez determined the building's ventilation equipment would create noise that's at or slightly below the level already present. The sound of gunshots would be well below those ambient sound levels, the consultant concluded.

Still, Perez is promising to fix any problems that might arise after the facility opens.

Meanwhile, supporters like Bloomingdale resident Jeff Wozniak say the proposed business is needed for the area.

"As a father to two girls … I hope that we as a family can practice both gun safety and marksmanship at a gun facility close to home," Wozniak said during a recent public hearing. "I want to be able to take them right down the street, so they can learn how to be safe when they eventually want to carry."

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