A proposal to amend city law to allow a shooting range to operate in a former medical practice on Prince Street in Midtown will go to the full Common Council for approval. But the chairman of the council’s Laws & Rules Committee said she expects the legislation to make its way back through the committee process for further revision.
More than 40 people turned out at a Tuesday, April 19 Laws & Rules meeting to offer opinions for and against the proposed shooting range at 90 Prince St. The proposal by SafeShoot LLC calls for the conversion of the building into a five-lane pistol range. Other areas of the building would hold classroom space for firearms education and a retail area for gun and ammunition sales. Membership at the range would be limited to licensed pistol permit holders.
The issue has stirred controversy since late last year when Dr. Adam Soyer, owner of the building, first proposed the range. Proponents say that the range would provide a much-needed venue for gun safety education and training in the city. Opponents say that its location in a densely populated neighborhood close by Kingston High School and the YMCA is inappropriate. Opponents also point to a 1978 law that forbids the discharge of firearms in the city, except in self-defense or by police in performance of their duties.
On April 15, Council Minority Leader Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9), who supports the range, submitted a proposed amendment to the law. Brown’s amendment carves out an exception to the law that would allow shooting in the city provided it takes place at an indoor facility designed as a shooting range. Designated shooting ranges would need site plan approval from the planning board and would need to operate in compliance with all state laws and safety regulations.
Brown’s amendment also included a legal opinion by SafeShoot attorney Michael Moriello. Moriello argues that the 1978 law was intended to prohibit duck hunting on the city’s waterfront and other outdoor shooting. He argues that the fact that indoor shooting ranges continued to operate at the city armory and the Andy Murphy neighborhood center well after the law passed indicates that it was never intended to apply to indoor target-shooting facilities. Moriello’s opinion also calls the blanket ban on firearms discharge in city limits overly vague and in violation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On April 19, Laws & Rules met to take up the amendment. In a public speaking period that stretched over two hours, 42 people weighed in for or against the proposal. According to committee Chairwoman Lynn Eckert (D-Ward 1) opinion was near evenly split, with 20 speakers coming out in favor of Brown’s amendment and 22 opposing. Eckert, who opposes the shooting range based on its location, said the discussion was largely polite and informative.
“I think shooting range proponents] earnestness was genuine and I was moved by some of the speakers,” said Eckert. “But ultimately I disagree with the location.”
Among the speakers, some pointed out that the 1978 law could be construed to prohibit ceremonial gunfire like the traditional rifle salutes performed at Memorial Day services. In response, Council Majority Leader Bill Carey (D-Ward 5) suggested further clarification and amendment of the law. But the committee passed on an opportunity to table the amendment for further revision. Instead, they allowed the amendment to move to the full Common Council with a “negative recommendation.” Brown and Maryann Mills (D-Ward 7) voted in support of the amendment while Carey, Eckert and Doug Koop (D-Ward 2) voted against it.
Mills said she had seen comments to the effect that the range would have no chance if it had been proposed for a more affluent part of the city, but she disagreed. She said the range would actually fit in well with Midtown’s emerging arts community. “There is an art of shooting,” she said. “Where better place for it to be then in our art community? The art of shooting joining our arts area.”
Eckert said that she expects the amendment to be tabled at next month’s council meeting and returned to her committee for further discussion and revision.