Madison City Hall

Gun store’s proximity to schools sparks debate at city council meeting

MADISON – The issue was not even on the council meeting agenda, but the upcoming opening of Rocket City Armory drew a grand total of 26 members of the public to voice their perspectives in the public comments section of the meeting.

Rocket City Armory is a firearms repair and gunsmithing shop planning to open this year at 111 Plaza Blvd in Madison. They will also carry an inventory of new and used firearms.

Some Madison parents are worried the proximity of the armory to Midtown Elementary School, Primrose Preschool, and the future Big Blue Marble preschool will be a safety hazard to the students with gun violence incidents at schools on the rise.

“I think that the gun store is a bad idea. 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,” one concerned parent, Alex Vaughn, stated.

Councilwoman Maura Wroblewski voiced her opposition to the business’ location and suggested as a compromise that the armory establish operating hours around the school calendar.

“They have not received their business license yet, and we as a council could stipulate that they limit their operating hours from not being open during school hours,” Wroblewski proffered. “I think this is something that we as a council could consider at our next work session.”

Mayor Paul Finley explained that the city currently has no legal ability to block the business.

“With any zoning, if it meets the criteria for that zoning, we are required to accept that. The things that can change that are basically, if it is determined a nuisance,” Finley stated. “There’s four criteria, if for whatever reason, Rocket City Armory didn’t meet, the city council would have the ability to talk, have a public hearing, and take the business license, which is exactly what we did with Three Springs.”

In light of the Discovery Middle School shooting, Finley promised, “One of the things tonight that we won’t come to an agreement on is gun control. That’s just not going to happen. You can have discussion. You guys have opinions. The second thing we won’t do is we won’t legislate evil because that’s what happens if someone goes into a school and shoots folks, which happened in Madison in 2010.”

The owner of Rocket City Armory, Jared Hill, spoke during public comments.

“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 empathetic with the public concerns and fears 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,” Hill stated.

With the council limited in its ability to change the situation, the next steps are unclear.

A number of other notable issues were also addressed by the council at the May 22 meeting. Redistricting was one of those issues. An agenda item requested the council’s approval for the process to begin with a contract paying Slaughter and Associates $15,000 to appropriately redraw the lines to create seven, equal election districts.

Finley explained that the process is coming up to accommodate shifts and growth in population since last redistricting in 2011 and what the city is aiming for with this new redistricting, “Equal districts is what we’re shooting for. We will hire a professional that’s done it before to help us accomplish that.”

The official redistricted map will come before the council on Sept. 11 for a vote, and public meetings will begin in July.

The council approved another agenda item allowing city employees, particularly the fire and police departments, to utilize the Hexagon Wellness Center. The agreement comes at a cost of $24,000 to the city and gives the fire and police departments improved fitness facilities over the former facilities, which Mayor Finley described as “rat infested”.

The council also heard the First Reading for a permanent change to the order of Public Comments in council meetings. The change which allows for agenda-related comments at the start of the meeting, more comments during the Public Hearing section, and general comments at the very end of the meeting has been implemented in a trial period since the April 24 meeting. The council will vote on making the change permanent at the next city council meeting on June 12.

Additionally, the council recognized the outstanding work of three city employees with the Employee of the Year Awards present by Debbie Overcash on behalf of the Madison Rotary Club.

“We are happy tonight to recognize outstanding employees who represent law enforcement, fire protection, and community services,” Overcash stated.

Cole Edwards was recognized as Firefighter of the Year for his brave and selfless attitude toward his work, even when off duty from firefighting. Sergeant Michael Dixon was awarded Police Officer of the Year for his “diligence and attention to detail” that has prepared other officers for addressing traffic homicides and resulted in the resolution of a double homicide incident and the capture of a murder suspect in Chicago. The third and final employee of the year was Michelle Dunson, City Deputy Director of Engineering, who was selected for her effectiveness, preparedness, concern for the needs of residents in her position.

The next city council will be held on Monday, June 12 at the regular time of 6 pm in the council chambers at city hall.

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