A rise in gun ownership in the Twin Cities has one suburb considering amending its ordinance that strictly prohibits discharging a weapon in order to allow an indoor shooting range.
The proposal in Eagan comes amid a spike in firearm sales that has metro residents fighting for practice times at crowded ranges and as school target teams become the state’s fastest growing sport.
Many cities, including Minneapolis, have cracked down on firearm sales. But suburbs such as Rogers and Osseo have embraced the rising interest in target shooting by spending big bucks on new gun ranges and clubs.
“In the suburban areas, attitudes are more realistic and more relaxed [about guns],” said David Feinwachs, an attorney representing the proposal’s creator, O’Neal Hampton Jr. “Eagan seems to be a logical place for one; there’s lots of industrial area buildings that would accommodate such an enterprise.”
Hampton, a firearms instructor and motivational speaker, brought the proposal to Eagan’s City Council on Aug. 11.
Hampton, who owns Koscielski’s Guns & Ammo in south Minneapolis, launched a foundation in 2012 to help schoolchildren combat obesity after he lost more than 150 pounds on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.”
After Hampton and his daughter appeared on the show, the pair began a weight-loss competition involving thousands of employees at some of Minnesota’s largest companies, such as Target, Medtronic and General Mills.
He declined to comment on the gun range proposal until it’s approved.
Gun owners in Eagan must now go to the West End Hunting and Fishing Club, an outdoor trap range in the southeastern part of the suburb, to practice.
Only that club and the police firing range are exempt from the non-discharge regulation, because they were grandfathered in when the ordinance was approved. Seven other gun ranges are recognized by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Dakota County.
“I know from the sporting community that there is a demand for this type of facility,” Eagan Council Member Paul Bakken said. “The nearest ones that are comparable are not really that close to Eagan, so I would imagine that this facility would be used quite a bit.”
As of July, Dakota County had issued 11,183 permits to carry. The state reported about 175,000 active permits in July, according to the Minnesota Association of Defensive Firearm Instructors.
At the August meeting, city leaders expressed some concerns.
Police Chief Jim McDonald recommended that, if Hampton acquires a license for the range, he should install a sophisticated security system and subscribe to an automated pawn system to deter thefts and the sale of stolen firearms.
Even if the council does allow the range, any decision could be several weeks away.
Jon Hohenstein, director of community development in Eagan, said the city would perform a background check on Hampton and any other owner/operators. The council would also have to grant an approval for construction once a location was chosen, he said.
Officials say they haven’t heard a word of opposition from residents.
“I hear more people speaking up about concerns of traffic from the new outlet mall and whether people’s lawns are getting mowed than I do about this,” Bakken said.
A local shooting range may give residents better opportunities to learn the obligations associated with gun ownership, he said.
“We’re not the first community in Minnesota to have gone down this path,” Bakken said, “and I’m sure we won’t be the last.”