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This Guy Wants To Open Chicago's First Gun Store In River West

By Mae Rice in News on Jan 20, 2016 4:16PM

Headshot courtesy of Christopher O'Connor

A Chicago man wants to open what would be Chicago’s first gun shop and gun range in River North. Though it’s not a done deal yet, Christopher O'Connor has a warehouse in mind, in an area with a gun-agnostic alderman.

O'Connor is eyeing a space at 613 N. Union Ave., near the Tribune printing presses, which will be home to a spacious gun range if his plans come to fruition. It will also sell guns host classes that would provide the “tools and training to become responsible armed citizens,” O'Connor told Chicagoist.

O'Connor is spearheading the project in part because he saw unmet demand for gun training in Chicago, where concealed carry and gun sales have both been in and out of legal purgatory until recently.

O'Connor attributes this in part to Chicago's gun culture, which he terms “restrictive.” “Chicago has created a culture where guns equal crime, because only criminals can have guns," he said.

Growing up in Indiana, O'Connor experienced a different gun culture. His grandfather taught him to shoot when he was 10; in high school, he was on his school’s varsity shooting team. (They didn’t use real bullets. “We used .177 millimeter pellet rifles,” he explained. “Like, a big BB.”)

“For me it’s a sport,” O'Connor said. “It’s something I enjoy. Precision shooting is all about focus and discipline. Similar to martial arts in that regard, but a little less physical. It’s a sport you can do even with disabilities, which is great.”

The sporting aspect would be the focus of his gun store. Sales would be secondary at best, O'Connor said, since local regulations won’t allow more than 20% of a Chicago gun facility’s floor space to be devoted to sales.

So far, Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27th) doesn't personally oppose the shop.

"So long as residents don't have a problem with it, I don't think it's a big deal," he told DNAInfo. Burnett did not reply to our requests for comment.

The neighborhood’s reaction has been more mixed than the alderman’s. Of his conversations with Neighbors of River West, O'Connor said, “You get a mixed crowd, no matter what.”

He estimates that 20 percent of the locals he’s spoken to have been enthused, the vast majority have been indifferent, and 10 percent were vehemently against it.

In response to those critics with safety concerns, he said, “There have never been more gun owners in the United States and less gun crime in the United States.” He cited an FBI study I couldn’t find; however, Forbes reported similar findings in 2013, based on data from the Department of Justice and Pew Research Center.

When asked about the epidemic of shootings, from Sandy Hook to Charleston, O'Connor said he thinks of those as a rare events overexposed by the media. “You never hear about the guy who defended his convenience store against an armed assailant,” he said.