Local businessman has plans for gun range near Douglas County Jail

Fried chicken and guns may have something in common in Lawrence. You remember, I’m sure, the recent proliferation of fried chicken restaurants in town. Such a proliferation with gun shops may be coming.

Well, it may be a bit early to go that far, but I do have news of another gun shop that says it plans to open in Lawrence. We previously reported that Lawrence businessman Rick Sells was planning to open a gun shop and indoor gun range in a portion of the building that formerly housed Bargain Depot near 23rd and Harper. Now, I’ve also heard from another Lawrence businessman who says he is working on an even bigger gun range project.

Steve Robson, who owns both Ace Self Storage and Ace Bail Bonds, said he is working on plans to build a new 12,000 square-foot gun range and gun store on vacant property next to the bail bond business. The business would have 10 target practice lanes and would have about 6,000 square feet of space for gun and ammunition sales.

“I think the city should be all about us doing this,” Robson said. “There are no schools or houses or anything like that out here.”

In case you are confused about where Ace Bail Bonds is (if you know the location well, I’ll let you explain), it is just across the street from the Douglas County Jail in eastern Lawrence. Robson said that actually could end up being a selling point for the location too. The jail naturally attracts a large number of law enforcement officers to the area. Robson said the gun range would be built to meet the standards required for law enforcement training. Lawrence police officers currently have to leave the city to practice at an indoor gun range. The city of Lawrence closed the gun range that operated in the basement of the Community Building after they determined it did not meet the city’s own zoning codes.

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The fact the city doesn’t have a gun range is the main reason Robson is working on the venture. He said it only makes sense that every city of a certain size have such a business these days. After all, the state of Kansas now allows essentially any adult to carry a concealed handgun with no license or required training. Robson said if people are going to carry a gun, they ought to know how to use it.

“If you don’t know how to use it, you might as well take the bullets out and throw it like a rock,” he said. “I think it gives everybody a safe place to come and shoot. We are going to have classes for beginners, and probably will do some hunter safety training too.”

Robson said he plans to carry a full range of ammunition and guns, including hand guns, hunting rifles and the legal assault rifles that have become quite the item with some gun enthusiasts.

Robson said he hopes to break ground around June on the building. There are still some hurdles for the project to clear, though. While Robson has taken the step of announcing the project, he doesn’t have necessary city approvals for the venture. In fact, he hasn’t yet filed the necessary plans with the city, although he said he has been in discussion with city officials to start that process.

I’m still a little unclear on what approvals will be required. The property is zoned for industrial uses. Some types of light industrial zoning categories allow for gun ranges, while other heavier industrial zoning categories do not. If the zoning allows for the gun range, it is possible that it could be administratively approved by planning officials.

I did talk with Sells briefly today, and he said he is still raising funds to get his venture started at 23rd and Harper. He previously had looked at opening a business in a smaller space in the The Malls Shopping Center near 23rd and Louisiana. When he switched to the 23rd and Harper site, the project became bigger and needed more financing, he said. Sells did not have a start date on the project, but he said his plans call for about 16,000 square feet of space, with 10 shooting lanes with the potential to expand to 18.

Whether both projects — they are only about two miles apart — would move forward is uncertain. That seems like a lot of gun ranges in a small area, but there is no denying that gun sales have been booming. There has been plenty of national reports about how people have feared stricter gun regulations were always on the horizon with the Obama administration. Whether that will trend will continue under a Trump administration is one of just a few things worth watching over the next four years.

But, who knows, perhaps both businesses will end up moving forward. Perhaps East 23rd Street will become to gun ranges what south Iowa Street has become to fried chicken restaurants. It makes no difference to me. I would just urge this: If you are going to combine the two activities, please, please use the wet wipes before you do your quick draw.