Niles gun shop meeting

About 200 supporters and critics of a proposed gun shop and shooting range packed the Village of Niles Municipal Building Tuesday evening. (Erin Chan Ding, For the Tribune)

A proposed gun shop/shooting range that has generated controversy because of its location near several schools will be coming to Niles.

The Niles Village Board of Trustees voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a special use permit to allow firearms sales, firearms safety training and an indoor firing range at the proposed location of 6143 Howard St.

About 200 supporters and critics of the plan packed the Niles Municipal Building to make their voices heard on the gun shop, to be called Sportsman’s Club and Firearms Training Academy.

Dozens wore green shirts and ribbons to honor victims of school gun violence, while others wore stickers like “Gun Control is NOT Kosher.”

Trustee John Jekot, who voted for the permit, said he could not find studies that showed that the location of a gun shop to a school increased the amount of gun violence against students.

“A bad guy,” he said, “if he’s really going to get in there, he’s going to find a way to get a weapon. I just feel that (Sportsman’s) is going to be a safe facility.”

Though the gun shop will be in an industrial section of Niles, it will be within a mile of five schools, including Niles West High School. It will be the closest to New Hope Academy, a therapeutic school for students with emotional disabilities.

Both the superintendent of Niles Township High School District 219 and the executive director of New Hope Academy spoke against the gun shop and firing range.

Nanciann Gatta, superintendent of District 219, said “the location is too close to our schools.” It’s not a case about the right to bear arms. It’s a question of where this range would be.”

Myles Cunningham Jr., a co-owner of the gun store, said the shop and range will open in 10 to 12 months.

Adding that he was grateful the village took the time to go through the process for approvals and acknowledging that “it’s always contentious,” Cunningham, after the meeting, said, “Today, we got what we were looking for, and we’re very happy about that.”

Bill Dean, of West Chicago, said “as soon as it opens, I’ll be here spending money,” adding that, “You cannot deny people the right to practice with their firearms.”

The Niles Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals approved the gun shop and firing range by a 5-2 vote earlier this month after a meeting that lasted about four hours due to public comments.

Trustee Rosemary Palicki, the only village official to vote no Tuesday, said the proposed gun shop did not meet the requirements for a variance.

“The perception of danger on the part of these parents and community leaders remains very strong,” she said, “and therefore, the very real issues of public health and welfare remain unresolved.”

Felicia Holtz, a Skokie resident who has a child on track to attend Niles West, said she was “not surprised, but I am disappointed” at the outcome. “I can only hope that nothing happens.”

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