By Susan Vela
BELVIDERE — Chris Linenfelser didn't want Biglinny Firearms to be "a good ol' boy gun shop" when he opened the store in August.
He wanted an indoor shooting range to be part of his $1.2 million investment at 485 Southtowne Drive.
He is requesting a special-use permit to build and operate a 4,300-square-foot range with six 75-foot-long lanes behind Biglinny Firearms.
It could be the first shooting range in the city when it opens around the July Fourth holiday.
The City Council is scheduled to consider Linenfelser's request at its meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday.
"Sales have been really good," he said. "We just had a lot of people come in saying they'd love to see a range. We started putting numbers together, and there's no reason really to wait.
"To know that many people are walking around carrying weapons and there's no place to practice scares me."
Some aldermen say they're prepared to approve the permit despite concerns about noise among some residents.
"I used to shoot in them all the time," said Alderman Ronald Brooks of the 4th Ward. "As long as it's a business and they comply with regulations ... I have no problems. I'll probably vote for it. They're safe ... a lot safer than having a fellow go into the woods and shoot away with a gun."
Third Ward Alderman Wendy Frank also said she was likely to vote to approve the permit. Linenfelser has promised to use materials that would muffle the sounds of firearms.
"We don't have anything like that," she said. "If they've done all the provisions to keep it safe for the neighborhood ... it would be a good thing. We've got to promote businesses in Belvidere."
Earlier this month, the Belvidere Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend approval of the special-use permit with the following conditions:
— Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
— There is a six-lane limit.
— All shooting range activities happen indoors.
— Materials for exterior renovations match existing building materials.
— A seven-foot wooden privacy fence is installed between Biglinny Firearms and the Southtowne residential neighborhood.
Community Development Planner Gina DelRose said a federal appeals court had held in a 2011 decision — Ezell v. City of Chicago — that municipalities could not bar commercial shooting ranges. Because of the ruling, Belvidere city officials amended a zoning ordinance to allow shooting ranges in industrial districts, she said.
They'll vote on permitting them in Belvidere's planned and general business districts — with special-use permits — the same evening they'll also consider Biglinny Firearms' special-use permit request.
"With the increase in gun ownership, the demand for shooting ranges increases as well," DelRose said.
Some residents still have concerns.
"The proposed use will detrimentally impact the environment, resulting in increased noise, increased traffic, (a potential) environmental impact as well as a detriment to the surrounding properties," wrote attorney Stephen Daday, who represents the Southtowne Village Condominium Association, in documents submitted to city officials. "It is inconsistent with the residential use of the surrounding neighborhood."
Then there are the gun enthusiasts hankering for a new place to take classes and shoot their weapons.
Chris Gaddis drops by Biglinny Firearms whenever he sees the lights are on. He lives a few blocks away.
"I decided that this was going to be my new favorite place to be in town," he said. "Chris and his wife, Michelle, are the most honest, trusting, most friendly people I've ever met in my life."
His favorite shooting range is in Dundee, about 30 minutes away. Gaddis hopes council members grant Linenfelser a special-use permit so he can save gas money.
"We need a place to shoot where it's safe," he said. "Gun safety is what gun ownership is all about."
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Michael Biesecker, Sean MurphyAssociated Press
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt occasionally used private email to communicate with staff while serving as Oklahoma's attorney general, despite telling Congress that he had always used a state email account for government business.
A review of Pruitt emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request showed a 2014 exchange where the Republican emailed a member of his staff using a personal Apple email account.
Emails released under court order last week in response to a different public records request yielded additional examples where emails were addressed to Pruitt's private account, including a 2013 exchange with a petroleum industry lobbyist who emailed Pruitt and a lawyer on the attorney general's staff. That suggests Pruitt made his private email address available to professional contacts outside his office.
It is not illegal in Oklahoma for public officials to use private email as long as they are retained and made available as public records. Pruitt's use of the private account appears to directly contradict statements he made last month as part of his Senate confirmation.
In a written questionnaire, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., asked Pruitt whether he had ever conducted state business using personal email accounts. Pruitt responded: "I use only my official OAG email address and government issued phone to conduct official business."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., later followed up with Pruitt on the issue when he testified Jan. 18 before the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee. The senator asked why an email address with the Apple address me.com was listed on a form as one of his business contacts.
"The 'me' address is not a business email address," Pruitt responded. "I am not sure why it was designated as such."
Pruitt did not respond Monday to emails sent to his EPA staff seeking comment.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the issue raises questions about Pruitt's credibility.
"Now that he is in charge of protecting clean air and water in every community across the country, the public must decide for themselves whether they can trust Pruitt when he can't even be honest about his email or his ties to the oil and gas industry," Wyden said Monday.
AP and other news organizations reported last week that 7,500 pages of emails released following a lawsuit filed by a left-leaning advocacy group showed Pruitt and his staff in Oklahoma coordinated closely on legal strategy with fossil-fuel companies and special interest groups working to undermine federal efforts to curb planet-warming carbon emissions.
The emails were released after an Oklahoma judge ruled that Pruitt had been illegally withholding his correspondence, which is public record under state law, for the last two years. Pruitt's Republican successor, new Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, has appealed that ruling and is fighting to keep hundreds more withheld emails from public view. Hunter's spokesman, Lincoln Ferguson, did not return telephone and email messages on Monday seeking clarification on Pruitt's use of a private email or whether more messages to the Apple account were among those still being withheld.
Senate Democrats earlier this month sought to delay a vote on Pruitt's confirmation until after the requested emails were released. Republican leaders used their slim majority to confirm him to lead the federal agency he had frequently criticized and repeatedly sued during his six years as Oklahoma's attorney general.
Pruitt's use of private email was first reported earlier this month by FOX 25 television of Oklahoma City.
Senate environment committee chairman John Barrasso, R-Wy., declined to comment Monday about whether Pruitt was inaccurate in his testimony. Barrasso's spokesman, Mike Danylak, pointed to another exchange during Pruitt's testimony where he was asked whether he would use only government email to conduct business at EPA, so that his correspondence would be publicly available through the Freedom of Information Act.
"I really believe that public participation and transparency in rulemaking is very important," Pruitt responded.