West Chicago committee says no to gun shop zoning regulations

Proposed changes to West Chicago's zoning code that would prevent gun shops from opening downtown have been scrapped.

The city's development committee rejected a proposal Monday that would have limited such shops to general business districts and regional shopping districts.

Despite opposition from aldermen Laura Grodoski and James Beifuss, the committee said gun shops should be allowed to open in the downtown business district - as long as another proposal, to create a new license for the shops, is approved by the city council.

The committee suggested the license require gun shops be kept at least 500 feet away from schools, day cares and parks.

Alderwoman Lori Chassee chairs the public affairs committee, which has been discussing the licensing proposal. She attended Monday's meeting and said she believes the license "does not replicate any of the hurdles that must be jumped in order to obtain a federal firearms dealer license."

City officials say the license would cost $100 and need to be renewed annually.

Chassee said communities that regulate gun shops by labeling them as a "special use" in the zoning code often lack licensing. To do both, she said, would be costly and burdensome to businesses that "are already heavily regulated."

"I would urge you to recognize that distinction and go with one or the other, but not both," she said.

The development committee also heard from about a dozen of the more than 50 gun supporters in attendance, including Illinois State Rifle Association board member Mike Weisman.

"It's a highly regulated field already, the retail sales of firearms, but more than that, it is now a constitutionally protected activity," he said.

Anni Holm was the only resident who spoke in support of the zoning changes. She said she has heard children are afraid of the newly opened Liberty Guns at 210 Main St.

She said she doesn't want gun shops downtown because they might deter people who have a negative perception of guns from patronizing other businesses or attending events.

"I understand that people like shooting. I understand that people like to buy guns. That's fine. But I really don't want to see it on Main Street," she said. "We really want this to be a friendly community."

City officials said the two existing gun shops in town - Liberty Guns and Manny Segarra Guns at 2117 W. North Ave. - would be grandfathered in and not have to abide by new zoning regulations.

Beifuss argued that since the downtown district is small, it wouldn't create an issue to exclude gun sales there. Grodoski said she didn't want gun shops downtown because of the "perception" issue raised by Holm.

But Alderman John Banas, who held the strongest opinion on the committee, said he thinks the whole matter should be dropped because it is discriminatory. He urged residents fearful of guns to educate themselves on gun sales and said he plans to vote against the license if it is presented to the council.

"It's wrong on moral grounds. It's wrong on revenue grounds. It's wrong for our businesses and our constituents, and it's wrong for West Chicago," he said.

Another, possibly final discussion on the proposed license is scheduled for the public affairs meeting on Oct. 24. If the committee agrees to pass the licensing proposal along to the city council, a vote could occur in early November.

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