Veterans for Peace of Southeast Alaska, representatives for the Juneau Mercantile and Armory and the city argued the question of what makes a gun range safe according to Planning Commission land use requirements during a permit appeal hearing Monday afternoon.
More than 40 people were in the city’s Assembly Chambers for the hearing. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly was scheduled to go into executive session to discuss the appeal after its regular meeting — and after the Empire’s press deadline.
The proposed 13,000-square-foot facility would house a 10-lane indoor gun range below ground level and a retail space on the first floor. The Armory owners have said the shooting range would be encased in concrete and insulated for sound.
Phil Smith, president of Veterans for Peace of Southeast Alaska, accused the Planning Commission of failing to sufficiently consider human health and safety when it approved a permit to build the range. It is not about gun control, he said.
“We don’t see this as taking apart the Second Amendment,” Smith said.
Smith said he is an outdoorsman and gun owner.
Smith said the public record showed little interaction between city staff and the Juneau Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard as to the safety of storing “weapons of war” in the city and borough limits.
Planning Commission representative Greg Chaney said JPD found no concerns with the gun range and its location.
Assembly member Jesse Kiehl asked Smith to describe the risks he feels the gun range could cause to public health and safety.
Smith described two concerns — one the general coarsening of the community. “Is this really the kind of town we want to live in? Will we be known as the Las Vegas of the north? Where people flock in to shoot their big guns?”
The Armory is also a threat due to direct gun violence, Smith said.
“Could someone get a gun, shoot his way out and go berserk on the street?” Smith said. “I’m not saying that is going to happen.”
Chaney said planning commissioners can not make decisions based on Smith’s concerns. The commission decides on land use issues, not about what goes on inside a structure, Chaney said. He compared it to the Planning Commission deciding to raise the drinking age to 25.
“That’s not the Planning Commission’s role,” Chaney said. “They are not a legislative body.”
The federal government makes rules as to who can sell what guns to whom and regulates the air emissions from the shooting range. With the noise and bullets contained within the Armory, Chaney said the commission ends up looking at parking and traffic concerns.
“We have nothing in the record to show there would be an off-site impact,” Chaney said.
Attorney Daniel Bruce with Baxter Bruce and Sullivan represents Juneau Mercantile and Armory owners Sloan Swendsen, Jason Tarver and CBJ Planning Commissioner Dan Miller.
Bruce said the Planning Commission’s one-to-six decision was a definitive.
“It wasn’t even close,” Bruce said. “The appellant wants to make this a national issue on gun control.”
Veterans for Peace ignored public records that showed JPD said it was not concerned by the business, Bruce said. He said Smith came late to the process, missing public meetings held on the Armory’s permit.
“What he is doing,” Bruce said. “He is a Monday morning quarterback.”
The Armory is designed as a 3,000-square-foot retail space and underground gun range located on the corners of Yandukin Drive, Crest Street and Airport Boulevard.
The commission approved the Armory’s Conditional Use Permit on Dec. 11, 2012. Smith submitted an appeal for Veterans for Peace on Jan. 2. After two pre-appeal hearings and several written responses and responses to responses Hearing Officer Jones scheduled a full hearing for April 1.
Greg Chaney asked Assembly members to reach its decision with due haste. The Armory is already delayed due to the months-long appeal. The assembly can take up to 45 working days to reach a decision. Assembly member Loren Jones served as hearing officer.
Afterward, Smith said he was satisfied with his hearing.
“Now we just wait,” Smith said.
Look for an update online at www.juneauempire.com.
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.