A video surveillance system, noise containment technology and professional staffing are some of the safety measures that will be enforced at Eagan’s newest indoor shooting range if the project is approved by the City Council on Tuesday.
The proposal comes amid a rise in gun ownership and would require the suburb to amend its law that prohibits discharging a weapon within city limits. Eagan’s Advisory Planning Commission last month recommended the change, which would allow for indoor gun ranges with City Council approval.
O’Neal Hampton Jr., a firearms instructor and motivational speaker, brought the proposal to open the indoor gun range to Eagan’s City Council on Aug. 11. Hampton said he wants to promote gun safety while teaching residents how to protect themselves.
“When you become comfortable with something, you’re more receptive to it,” said Hampton, who owns Koscielski’s Guns & Ammo in south Minneapolis and has seen a spike in attendance of women at his gun safety courses. “A lot of them say ‘I don’t know if I ever want to do it, but I want to take the course to see what it’s about.’ They want to be informed.”
Hampton, an Army veteran, bought the shop about five years ago after retiring from the U.S. Postal Service. He also launched a foundation in 2012 to help children combat obesity after he lost more than 150 pounds on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.”
If Eagan’s firearms law change is approved, Hampton said he plans to staff the range with experienced professionals, including retired police officers and U.S. marshals. The shooting range would offer a variety of training classes and a simulation room for learning when it is appropriate to fire, he said.
Gun owners in Eagan now go to the West End Hunting and Fishing Club, an outdoor trap range in the southeastern part of the suburb, to practice. That club and the police firing range are exempt from the non-discharge regulation, because they were grandfathered in when the ordinance was approved. There are seven other gun ranges in Dakota County.
As of February, Dakota County had issued 13,207 permits to carry. The state reported nearly 187,000 active permit holders the same month, according to the Minnesota Association of Defensive Firearm Instructors. Statewide permits have jumped by about 12,000 since August.
Safety, noise concerns
Three concerned residents mailed letters to city staff in September. Their primary concerns were safety and the potential for excessive noise.
Susan Ross, a 28-year Eagan resident, said the city is already burdened by noise from Eagan’s two outdoor ranges and the nearby airport, so she is opposed to the construction of another facility.
“That type of activity should be far away from city limits where others who are not gun enthusiasts aren’t subjected to the noise and risks that accompany playing with a deadly weapon,” Ross wrote in her letter to City Council.
Hampton has worked with Eagan staff and Police Chief Jim McDonald to address those concerns by adopting several security measures, including a video surveillance and alarm system with facial recognition. Other restrictions include: no alcohol sales on the premises, no patrons under 18 years old and no audible noise outside the building.
Hampton also plans to sell new firearms at the range.
Eagan’s Advisory Planning Commission recommended the ordinance amendment for approval 4-1, sending it to City Council for a final ruling.
Dan Piper, the planning commission’s lone dissenter on the issue, said he wants to provide recreation opportunities to Eagan residents, but doesn’t think this is necessarily the right kind.
“I guess I’m just not sure that as a property owner you should have a reasonable expectation that you could have a shooting range inside your building, and I’m not sure that this is the kind of experience that we’re obligated as a city to provide to citizens,” Piper said. “I think the result is going to be more guns in Eagan … More guns is more potential for tragedy.”
Planning commission chairman Nelson Mark Filipi and other members disagreed, saying an indoor range provided a safer outlet for target shooters to learn responsible gun ownership.
“I’d rather have trained and educated users of firearms than people who are not,” said Filipi.