MADISON — A gun store planning to open near three schools in Madison resulted in more than 25 residents packing Monday night’s City Council meeting.
The heated debate led to police removal of one speaker during the nearly the 2 1/2-hour long meeting. The Rocket City Armory, set to open this year, is at 111 Plaza Boulevard – within 1,000 feet of Midtown Elementary, Primrose School of Madison and a childcare center under construction across the street.
The Rocket City Armory is a firearms repair, custom, and full-service gunsmithing shop. According to its website, the business carries “an inventory of new and used, vintage and modern, collectible and high-end firearms”.
Ahead of public comments on the issue, City Council member Maura Wroblewski addressed the crowd explaining the business met all the zoning requirements. She also said, because of its size, the shop did not go through the Planning Commission or the City Council.
Wroblewski said since the business license has not yet been granted, the city could limit operating hours when school is not in session.
“I think that would be a good compromise,” she said. “I think this is something that we as a council to maybe consider at our next work session.”
City Council member Karen Denzine also questioned the choice of location.
“At this point it’s been approved, it’s all legally done,” she said. “But my background is in real estate and site location and I just wonder why that spot? With all the properties in the city, why that spot to put it?”
Mayor Paul Finley also spoke before the public comments. He said there are numerous firearms or ammunition facilities in the city.
“To give some folks in a little bit additional context with Last Resort guns which is on County Line Road, we opened James Clemens in 2012, Last Resort was opened in 2013,” he said. “It’s about a mile from James Clemens and will be about the same, maybe just a little bit more, from the new elementary school. You also have Walmart which sells ammunition which would be close to the Journey Middle School and then where Rainbow is, Academy Sports across the street there.
“With any zoning, if it meets the criteria for that zoning, we are required to accept that.”
During public comments citizens were allowed three minutes to speak.
The first up was the owner of Rocket City Armory, Jared Hill.
“Today I come before you not only as an owner of Rocket City Armory but as a proud member of this community. My family has deep roots in Madison where we have dedicated ourselves to support and serve the people who call this great place home,” a visibly emotional Hill said. “As a family-owned establishment, we understand the concerns that have been raised regarding the proximity of our business to the new Elementary School in Madison. We are fully in empathetic with the public concerns and figures about gun violence and school shootings in general.
“Let me assure you the safety and well-being of our community, especially our children, are of paramount importance to us. We pledge to uphold all firearm laws and regulations leaving no room for compromise.”
Alex Vaughn requested the business be moved using zoning laws or deny their business license.
“I think that the gun store is a bad idea,” he said. “I’ll be honest, I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to determine that putting a gun store within spitting distance of elementary school children is a bad idea.
“This is material, 77% of mass shooters bought legally. If you can’t see the problem while looking at this place head-on from the steps with my children’s elementary school, I’m not sure that you will.”
Council President Ranae Bartlett said there is nothing the city can do to deny the business license.
“The property owner has not violated any laws and his intended use complies with existing zoning laws,” Bartlett said in a statement to 256 Today. “The Council is duty-bound to follow the laws as they exist but can ask the mayor’s office and Planning (Department) to review our zoning regulations for future commercial developments and make recommendations for adjustments.
“Public feedback is important and appreciated in this process.” The next 20 speakers ranged from concerned parents to gun owners to business owners. One mother of three children at Midtown Elementary warned of the ill effect on children’s mental health and well-being with a gun store so close by.
Supporters slammed the notion of limiting business hours or operations. A business owner said her doors would close if the city were to limit their operating hours.
Further discussion on the issue is expected at the next City Council work session.
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