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New gun store allowed to open in Racine County gun-free school zone

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BURLINGTON — A gun store is being allowed to set up shop near Karcher Middle School, despite concerns about circulating firearms close to the school and a child care center.

A divided Burlington Plan Commission has given store operator Roy Christensen the green light to start selling guns in a former pharmacy at 300 S. Pine St.

The location is about one block away from both Karcher Middle School and the Plymouth Children’s Center.

Exemption makes store legal

Two members of the plan commission, as well as a schoolteacher, voiced opposition to the new store, and they questioned how a firearms dealership could operate in a gun-free school zone.

The law on gun-free school zones restricts carrying any firearm within 1,000 feet of a school. However, gun stores themselves are exempt.

But, anyone purchasing a gun or bringing one in for repairs could be in violation of the law when they walk outside the store unless they take certain precautions. To be legal, every gun would have to be emptied of ammunition and locked inside a carrying case while it is carried in or out of the store.

Plan Commission member Art Gardner said he has “no confidence” that Christensen’s customers would comply with the law every time. Gardner also said allowing gun sales near a school or child care center involves taking chances.

“There’s a risk,” he said. “And we all know that.”

Supporters of the gun store, however, said they see no danger in its proximity to Karcher Middle School, 300 Wainwright Ave., or Plymouth Children’s Center, 200 S. Pine St.

Tom Preusker alderman Burlington

Preusker

One commission member, Alderman Tom Preusker, said if Karcher ever were targeted for a school shooting, having Christensen’s inventory of firearms and ammunition in the neighborhood could help in defending the school. Referring to the store owner, Preusker said, “He could probably get there faster than any first responder.”

Burlington Police Chief Mark Anderson said the gun-free school zone law does not prohibit firearms dealers from doing business near schools. Anderson declined to say whether he supports the new gun store.

Vote

The commission voted 4-2 on Tuesday to approve a permit needed for the new store to open. The decision is not subject to review by the Burlington City Council.

In addition to Preusker, the store was supported by commissioners Chad Redman, Andy Tully and John Ekes.

Joining Gardner in voting no was Alderman Bob Grandi, another commission member.

Jurors on Friday found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty of all charges against him. Rittenhouse had testified that he acted in self-defense when he shot three people, two fatally, during unrest in Kenosha last year.

Fourth in community

Christensen, who lives in Salem Lakes in Kenosha County, is the owner of America’s Gunsmith Shop LLC, which operates inside Camping World of Kenosha, 6802 118th Ave., Kenosha. Formerly known as Gander Mountain, Camping World opted to drop gun sales a few months ago. Stevenson, an employee since 2004, bought the gun business, and now is looking to relocate.

He is considering purchasing the retail space where Pharmacy Station once operated at 300 S. Pine St. The independent pharmacy shut down last year after selling its customer accounts to Walgreens.

Christensen said he is attracted to Burlington because of its central location and because of the community’s general support for hunting and shooting sports. The new store, he said, probably could sell about 500 guns a year, and would draw just as much business with its gunsmithing repairs and service.

Saying that he expected to hear concerns about the store’s location, Christensen said he has been in the business almost 20 years without ever having a problem that required police involvement.

“We’re sensitive to that,” he said. “We’ve been a good steward of the community.”

America’s Gunsmith Shop LLC would join three other Burlington businesses that sell guns: Dunham’s Sports, 1120 Milwaukee Ave.; R.P. Home & Harvest, 1058 Milwaukee Ave.; and Reineman’s True Value, 417 Milwaukee Ave.

Officials at the Burlington Area School District confirmed that Karcher Middle School is in a gun-free school zone. But they, too, declined to say whether they support the proposal.

“We trust the city to make a decision that is in the best interest of the community,” district spokeswoman Julie Thomas said.

Officials at Plymouth Children’s Center declined to comment.

Teacher disapproves

Melissa Statz school teacher Burlington

Statz

Melissa Statz, a teacher at Cooper Elementary School, posted her opposition on Facebook and urged Plan Commission members to reject the Pine Street location for firearms sales.

Statz said gun violence at schools and elsewhere has become an “epidemic.” She said city officials should find a different location to accommodate Christensen’s business.

“Common sense would tell you that a gun-free zone exists for a reason,” she said.

At a public hearing on the matter, nobody spoke in support or opposition to the new gun store.

Grandi, who is Statz’s father, said that parents at both Karcher and Plymouth would feel unsafe about having a gun store near their children.

Noting that Burlington school officials just spent $32 million building a new Karcher Middle School with added safety measures, Grandi said it does not make sense to permit gun sales just down the street.

“We do our best to keep our children safe,” he said. “To me, this proposed store is a contradiction to that.”

"Common sense would tell you that a gun-free zone exists for a reason."

Melissa Statz, Cooper Elementary School teacher

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