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Chicago's First Gun Shop Would 'Look Like An Apple Store' in River West

By Stephanie Lulay | January 15, 2016 8:24am
 A Chicago man is now pitching plans to open the city's only gun store and gun range in a warehouse at 613 N. Union Ave. in River West.
A Chicago man is now pitching plans to open the city's only gun store and gun range in a warehouse at 613 N. Union Ave. in River West.
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RIVER WEST — A Chicago man is pitching plans to open the city's only gun store and gun range.

Irving Park resident Christopher O'Connor plans to open Firearms Defense Training Center, a full service gun range and gun shop in a warehouse at 613 N. Union Ave. in an industrial corridor of River West. The building is located near the Tribune's Freedom Center printing plant, the WaterSaver Faucet Company and the Chicago River.

After decades of fighting legal challenges against Chicago's strict gun restrictions, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the city's handgun ban in 2010. In 2012, a federal appeals court struck down Illinois' concealed carry ban and the City Council passed an ordinance in 2014 overturning the ban. 

Shortly after the city acted to comply with the conceal carry mandate, the City Council passed a separate ordinance allowing gun stores in Chicago. Under the rules, gun stores must be more than 500 feet from a school or park.

According to the ordinance, gun stores are largely banned in all areas except some zoned commercial districts and the zoned downtown service district area, which includes rail yards, warehouses and small businesses on the periphery of downtown. Shooting range facilities are permitted in zoned manufacturing districts.

Before opening up shop, the firearm dealer has to apply for a special-use permit, which the city's Zoning Board of Appeals can approve or deny.

To date, no gun store has opened in Chicago. The closest gun ranges are located in suburban Zion, Lombard and Riverdale. There is also a gun range in Lyons.

Because the city's strict ordinance, O'Connor said potential sites to develop a gun range in Chicago are severely limited. Despite the restrictions, O'Connor said he is confident he has identified a site that fits the city's requirements. The new gun shop and range would give Chicago's registered gun owners a place to practice using their guns and complete instruction hours required to get a concealed carry permit.

"Right now, there's nowhere to do this in the city. There's a definite need for this," he said. "The people of Chicago have a right to exercise their Second Amendment" rights.

Left: The Firearms Defense Training Center would include a gun shop, range and two classrooms. Right: Proprietor Christopher O'Connor [Christopher O'Connor]

Burnett: 'I don't think it's a big deal'

O'Connor has met with Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) and Neighbors of River West to pitch his plan to open the gun shop and range in River West. Burnett has also asked him to meet with the West Loop Community Organization, West Central Association, Randolph/Fulton Market Association and the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago groups.

If the groups support the project, Burnett will schedule a community meeting on the proposed gun shop and gun range.

"So long as residents don't have a problem with it, I don't think it's a big deal," he said. "Everyone I run into now has a conceal carry permit. You don't want a bunch of folks to have guns and not know what they're doing with them."

Whether in River West of somewhere else, Chicago gun owners need safe gun ranges in order to properly learn how to shoot and handle a gun safely, Burnett said.

"I know a lot of folks in government are against conceal carry," he said. "But if people want to defend themselves [with guns], I think they should have that option."

Concealed carry gives Chicagoans the ability to fight back against criminals who have illegal guns, O'Connor said.

RELATED: Analysis Shows Most Common Guns Confiscated in Crimes in Chicago

O'Connor said he isn't aiming to change people's deep-seated opinions on guns, but instead wants to show the need for a gun range in Chicago.

'Like an Apple store' 

If approved, the 25,000-square-foot Firearms Defense Training Center would "look like an Apple Store" and provide a consultative experience to prospective gun buyers, he told DNAinfo Chicago Thursday.

Gun stores "are no longer a dank, dark, smelly spots with shelves and shelves of guns," said O'Connor, 33. "This will be an accessible store. The goal is to find the right gun for you."

The gun shop would feature armored display cases and two classrooms on site.

Firearms Defense Training Center, which aims to be the first gun store and gun range in Chicago since the ban was lifted, would be modeled after other state-of-the-art gun shops, including Frisco Gun Club in Frisco, Texas. [Frisco Gun Club]

Under the city's rules, gun shop owners must videotape all gun sales and open their books for inspection by Chicago Police. Gun buyers are limited to buying one gun every 30 days. 

The shop would have a staff of 12 and be open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, O'Connor said.

O'Connor does not own the warehouse at 613 N. Union Ave. He is currently working to lease the building with an option to buy it, he said.

If O'Connor is successful at garnering community support and Burnett's blessing, he would aim to be in front of the city's Board of Appeals by May. If approved, O'Connor plans a $2 million renovation of the warehouse and the gun shop and range could open before the end of the year.

O'Connor, an Indiana native who has lived in Irving Park for 4½ years, has a background in hospitality and sales. He grew up sport shooting and hunting in Illinois and Indiana, served in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) in college and is a former member of the U.S. Border Patrol.

"I'm sure I'm not the only person working on [opening a gun store] right now, but I think I'm the furthest along," he said. "It is a matter of when, not if, this happens."

The ground floor of the warehouse at 613 N. Union Ave. currently houses AAA tow trucks.

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