City Council eyes ordinance targeted at indoor gun ranges

The national gun-control debate has come to the Atlanta City Council as it eyes a proposal that would make it harder to open indoor shooting ranges.

The council is taking up the issue as Douglasville-based Stoddard’s Range and Guns looks to open an Atlanta location near Atlantic Station, converting a dilapidated plumbing supply company into a nearly 30,000-square-foot range and retail store. But some residents of Loring Heights, a niche neighborhood known for its young families, have turned to the city council to halt the project.

“I think there is a perception thing. Obviously some people in my neighborhood have a political bent and they don’t like the idea and premise and morals of [guns],” said Ron Grunwald, land use chairman for the Loring Heights Neighborhood Association. “But some of us know we live in Georgia.”

Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, whose district includes Loring Heights, introduced legislation last week that would require shooting ranges to be at least 800 feet from private residences, churches, schools, libraries and hospitals. That proposal gained steam Tuesday with the unanimous approval of the council’s public safety committee. It is expected to be taken up by the city council as early as next week.

Stoddard’s co-owner Michael Halbreich, who learned of the legislation this week from an AJC reporter, said he believes his range is its target. More broadly, he fears opposition to his business is part of an anti-gun fervor after the December shooting of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Conn.

» Interactive: Child gun deaths in Georgia since 2010

“There is no coincidence here … that an amendment that deals specifically with and only with shooting galleries appears just as our project is proceeding,” he said.

“What happened in Newtown is horrific and no one could possibly feel anything but the greatest sympathy and hurt for the victims and families,” he continued. “My goal is to see to it that we have a facility that is safe, secure and provides the education and training so that Newtowns don’t happen.”

Adrean, for her part, said the city is not taking a stand in the national gun debate. Nor is the legislation designed with Stoddard’s Range and Guns in mind, she said.

“I’m not judging people who want to have shooting ranges or buy guns,” she said, adding her concern was for public safety. “These are people coming into the business with guns. They will have guns in their cars … This neighborhood has over 100 little kids.”

She said the measure is in keeping with distance requirements for establishments such as liquor stores and pawn shops. Liquor stores must be more than 600 feet from private residences. Strip clubs, another business subject to distance requirements, cannot be within 2,000 feet of homes.

Halbreich’s business, which he co-owns with Ken Baye, may be immune to the proposed rules if he turns in his application before the council’s decision, said Amber Robinson, a senior assistant attorney with the city.

Halbreich said he plans to finalize his paperwork this week. He’s already purchased the land for the facility.

Business owners seeking to open a shooting range inside city limits must seek a permit from the Atlanta Police Department. Shooting galleries must close at midnight (if located in a fire district) and must not admit minors or drunken people.

According to city officials, the only range now in the city is the Atlanta Police Department’s private facility. Quickshot Shooting Range, known as the Atlanta area’s main “in-town” gallery, lies just beyond the city limits.

Residents of the Loring Heights neighborhood are divided on the plans.

Pat Horton, an art framer whose business is on Traybert Street and whose residential property adjoins the Stoddard’s project site, said she believes the business would be an improvement for the struggling district.

“That’s the kind of business we need in here … It’s going to clean up a building that is just sitting there empty and looks awful,” she said. “What we’re up against are the things that could come in. The streets are run down. This is a business with a track record.”

But resident Laura O’Neill said a gun range isn’t the kind of company she hoped would revitalize the industrial area.

“That is not what I had envisioned on Bishop Street. I would’ve loved to see more local restaurants and boutiques,” she said.

O’Neill said the biggest reason she opposes the shooting range is that she has three children.

“With all the school violence going on, I just don’t think kids need to be around guns, period,” she said. “It’s not that I think they will get them from the store or there will be stray bullets, but my personal preference is if I can (avoid exposing) my children to guns, I will.”