Guns & Best Places: Final Exam

NilesReading time 37 seconds  .  .  . 

I have received requests from readers wanting to know what the three tests are that an applicant must pass in order to receive a zoning variance in Niles, IL. Mr. Bruce Sylvester, Community Planner for the Village of Niles kindly forwarded the information to me. The test is as follows:

“Standards. No special use shall be granted by the Village Board unless the special use:

“(a)    Is deemed necessary for the public convenience at that location;

“(b)  Is so designed, located, and proposed to be operated that the public health, safety, and welfare will be protected; and

“(c)  Will not cause substantial injury to the value of other property in the neighborhood in which it is located.”

That’s it. That was what was in contest at the Village Board meeting regarding a proposed new gun shop and shooting range in Niles, IL.

The applicant-owner knows nothing about gun shops – apparently, he is simply a businessman who sees an opportunity. His plan is to hire a manager from a nearby gun shop and shooting range to run day-to-day operations at his new shop. It is important to note that a substantial percentage of the guns sold by the shop where that soon-to-be new manager now works have made their way into the hands of people who killed others in the area with guns purchased at that shop. We don’t know if there is a connection between that gun shop manager’s capabilities and guns falling into the wrong hands. What we do know is that such things happened. I have seen no evidence of a plan to prevent that from happening at the now-approved new gun shop in Niles. That’s the gun shop where there are three schools within one mile of its location.

I made a comment at the public hearing on this issue because I’m close to this situation. My daughter is a dean at Niles West High School and, as such, deals with a few troubled kids. These are kids who go to school within one mile of that gun shop, whose parents just might buy a gun there and we don’t know how careful and responsible they will be with their new gun.

I said that we don’t need another University of Texas or Virginia Tech shooting, or another U.C. – Santa Barbara or Sandy Hook shooting. I especially don’t want that to happen at Niles West High School. This is no esoteric issue for me: It’s personal.

So I urged the Village Board to take a stand and to vote down the application for a special use permit. That did not happen. The new gun shop will be built. And recall that Niles, IL is a “Best place to raise a family.”

Have a look at the original post about this and be sure to review the comments. See what you think.


Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

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7 Responses to Guns & Best Places: Final Exam
  1. Don Zwiers Reply

    GUN CONTROL; WHO DO WE TRUST? The Federal government needs to step up and use our Free Market to solve the Gun Control issue. The Insurance industry can help responsible gun owners have their guns and prevent bad people from getting them. Insurance companies make their money by being careful who they insure. Prospective gun owners that have the necessary skills and are not on Federal Lists that would disqualify them would qualify for the best rates while an 18 year old who wants to buy an automatic rifle and has no training would not be a good candidate. Insurance companies place each client in their own risk pools and charge them competitively with other agents. Because insurance agents have no control where guns are sold; they can’t keep records of where they are; like autos, guns also have their own ID #. A Federal law, requiring every gun owner to carry a minimum liability policy; allows the Feds to maintain a simple data base of IDs for all guns, who owns them and the licensed insurance agent. Both owners and agents will each create their own PIN (Personal Identification Number) allowing them to add or remove their names. Every police dept will be listed in another data base with their contact phone number interconnected to the gun registry. In the case the insurance company doesn’t receive their premium they can cancel the gun owner’s policy and the registry is flagged getting the local police involved. They have the name and address of the last registered owner and the authority to question that person.They are also the most familiar with that area to do the legwork.

    Before a sale is complete, both the new owner and insurance agent must be recorded in the registry, using the technology we presently have.

    If a person decides to buy a gun, they will need to contact their insurance agent to make sure they can get the insurance. The insurance company will approve them as a responsible gun owner for a designated time period and lists them in the register, but not to a gun. That person also creates their PIN, allowing them to enter the registry as an approved gun owner, once they purchase it. The owner of the gun at a gun show, in a store or in a person’s home checks the customer’s name and insurance prior to completing the sale. They change the names in the register and the sale is complete.

    Manufacturers and dealers will probably buy blanket policies, like the auto industry.

    As soon as the Federal Gun Law is approved; all existing gun owners have 6 months to register their guns with their insurance agent. Any gun owner caught without insurance is punished. If it’s used to commit a crime, a more severe punishment is given and jail sentence will automatically be imposed.

    Insurance companies and the responsible gun owners do all the work as part of doing business. Damages are paid. EVERYONE IS FREE TO PURCHASE ANY WEAPON or INSURANCE THEY WANT. They can also elect to purchase concealed weapon insurance, if they qualify. Owners of guns assume their rightful responsibilities. THIS IS THE FREE MARKET WORKING WITHOUT GOV. REGULATIONS except to regulate against force and fraud.

    Big Government is not invading our privacy. It’s protecting us all with its regulation and our 2nd Amendment is safe. All states are bound to these terms because of Interstate Commerce.
    Police records can establish a criminal DO NOT SELL Gun Register, controlled by law enforcement. People with a gun Registry PIN will have access to this file. Another Register will have people with medical issues and a physician and family member place a person on it to protect themselves and others. If another doctor removes that person’s name, they assume the responsibility for the patient’s actions. Anyone on these lists will be barred from owning a gun until their names are removed by a physician that assumes the responsibility.

    • Lee Goodman Reply

      Mr. Zwiers states that his proposal is “THE FREE MARKET WORKING WITHOUT GOV. REGULATIONS except to regulate against force and fraud.” He overlooks that his proposal is entirely dependent upon the federal government requiring firearm owners to maintain insurance, and that in order for the federal government to do this, it would have to adopt regulations implementing the requirement. Requiring firearm owners to be insured is a good idea, but it has been consistently opposed by the gun industry. It does no one any good for the Village of Niles to avoid meeting its own responsibility for the safety of its residents by waiting for the federal government to do something it has shown no inclination to do.

  2. Dan Wallace Reply

    Jack and Jim. . .

    Zoning disputes are about “THIS particular use in THIS particular location.” Jim, your argument about test (b) – “but also all of the possible (should I say probable?) actions that are taken by gun owners EVERY DAY” – is impassioned, but it is an argument against all gun shops everywhere, and by extension against private gun ownership. That’s not the question raised by test (b). For the application to fail this test, there would have to be some specific concern about the lack of specific safeguards (I said “stray bullets” but it could be lots of things), or else there would have to be some evidence (damn, that “facts” thing again) that guns used in crimes are acquired (legally) from stores near where the crimes are committed. Otherwise, you’re just saying you think guns and private gun ownership are bad. It doesn’t have anything to do with this store. While I’m sure there is some civic regulation about what an applicant for a special use permit has to document regarding health and safety, the burden here is really on the village to prove that THIS use in THIS location would cause a harm that would not be cause by the SAME use in a DIFFERENT location. That’s the law, gentlemen – comes from a case involving a church – the Living Word case.

    With regard to test (c) – raised by both Jack and Jim – speculation isn’t enough. There would actually have to be some evidence that the value of similar properties in other locations have dropped when a gun shop/range went in. If that evidence existed, my guess is that it would have been presented. Again, the burden here is on the Village or the opponents of the special use permit.

    That leaves test (a), which is the one for which the burden lies squarely on the applicant. For this to have been approved, the applicant would actually have to show how the public would benefit from THIS use in THIS location. It doesn’t sound like that test was or would have been met. On that grounds, I agree, the Village should have rejected the special use request.

    Again, Jack (and Jim) – my issue here is not about gun shops. It’s about making flame-throwing arguments that weaken your case. In this case, Jack, I think you have VERY solid ground to stand on: “Would someone please explain how the public convenience would be enhanced by the presence of a gun shop and firing range at this location rather than in a location more appropriately zoned for it?” Make that argument. Be impassioned about it. Demand some facts (oh, there I go with the damned “facts” thing again). Just don’t substitute your feelings for facts elsewhere. It makes you less likely to get what you want.

    My 8 cents.

  3. Jim Altschuler Reply

    I agree with Dan Wallace’s statement re: test (a).

    With regard to test (b), I have to totally disagree (with respects) since that test is not just a function of stray bullets from the range but also all of the possible (should I say probable?) actions that are taken by gun owners EVERY DAY — ADW, stick-ups at gunpoint (mini-marts, convenience stores, GTA, GTP, and all of the other daily gun related occurrences), domestic violence, and, God forbid it happens again, Sandy Hook style events.

    With regard test (c), one doesn’t need a Harvard MBA to determine that the events concerning test (b) possible/probable outcomes will have a dire negative affect on property values. I base this on my almost 30 years in the real estate industry, a good deal of which was working in neighborhoods that had to deal with these problems as well as tagging, strong-arm robberies … a vast array of gun-involved wrongdoings.

    While I appreciate Mr. Wallace’s viewpoints I strongly suggest that there are other considerations that need to be weighed in to these tests. And I further suggest that the Niles city government give credence to these other areas that will affect them, their police department, and, most of all, their citizenry.

    • JaxPolitix Reply

      I interviewed Niles Chief of Police Dean Strzelecki, who told me that the police department was strongly in favor of approving the gun store. He explained that it would have a gun range that could depict various scenarios that could be used to train police officers. He did not explain why a privately owned gun shop should provide that, rather than the village having the required facilities for proper training of their personnel.

      This struck me as a bit like starting a war in Iraq without proper body or vehicle armor for troops and without sufficient numbers of troops, thus requiring private “contractors” and give them the right to unrestricted actions absent of consequences.

  4. Dan Wallace Reply

    Hi Jack. . .my usual caution here for you to avoid polemics that weaken your argument. The fact that you don’t want a gun shop in that location (which I can well understand) doesn’t mean it fails the special use tests. You have to look at the tests more closely. I say this on the basis of having recently gone through a zoning dispute that involved the granting of a special use permit, from which I learned a few things. In my case, it involved the establishment of a religious institution on a residentially-zoned property that was (in my opinion and the opinion of all who bordered it) spectacularly ill-suited to the particular use. We lost anyway.

    Of Niles’ 3 tests, the most obvious fail is (a). It is hard to imagine how the presence of a gun shop and shooting range in a location not zoned for such use somehow would benefit the public convenience. Make that argument and stop there.

    Your argument about (b) – public health, safety and welfare is (and I say this with all love and respect) entirely bogus. That test would come into play if, for example, there were a risk of stray bullets flying out of the shooting range. It would also come into play if there were some correlation between the location of the purchase of a firearm purchase and the location in which it is subsequently used, which is what you’re implying. But that correlation doesn’t exist. So I’m afraid you’re making a bogus argument, and that weakens your case.

    Test (c) – property values – is very specific. For that test to come into play, there has to be evidence that this use of this particular property would damage the value of the properties around it. Is there any such evidence? The fact that YOU don’t like it doesn’t qualify.

    You know me, Jack. I think our national attitude toward firearm ownership is silly, outdated and deadly – and also, unfortunately, enshrined in the Constitution. But when you make bogus arguments about a case like this, you distract from the real issue, which is a Constitutional guarantee written for a completely different world. I think you are on solid ground regarding the Public Convenience test. That seems like a positive test – the owner would have to show affirmatively that the public would be BETTER OFF if he were able to put his gun shop on that property, and it seems unlikely that he could do that (or at least that it would be VERY difficult). The fact that the owner WANTS to put a gun shop there shouldn’t be enough.

    Again, make the legitimate case and stop.

    • JaxPolitix Reply

      Excellent points, Dan. I’ll respond with some additional information, this about property values.

      A representative (principal? not sure) of the school that is located one block from the new gun shop site made a most convincing argument about the negative value impact on her property. Note that by the time of the Village Board meeting much testimony and volumes of reference material had been submitted to the zoning board, plan commission and Board about every aspect of this controversy you can imagine and many that are quite beyond most people’s creative powers. Some, I’m confident, dealt with property values.

      The claim by the school representative was that there would be a significant reduction in the property value of all the adjacent or surrounding properties. That is to say, allowing the gun shop be built would favor the owner of the gun shop over all previously existing property owners. The school representative made a strong case and submitted studies that support her claim.

      To test this out, try a thought experiment. If you were looking to buy a house in Niles, would your consideration of value be higher, lower or the same for a house within a block of the gun shop versus the same house in the absence of the gun shop?

      Note that failing that test and the first test of public convenience means that the application fails two out of three tests – and all three must be passed in order to gain approval for the application for a special use permit. Test two can be argued either way, but the certainty that some guns sold by the gun shop will wind up in the wrong hands augers against the safety requirement; thus, I disagree with your claim that my argument is bogus. But because you are my friend, I will concede the point. The application still fails two of the necessary three standards.