Juneau Mercantile & Armory is under construction on Crest Street. Photo by Heather Bryant / KTOO.

Juneau Veterans for Peace says it will not appeal the Juneau Assembly’s decision upholding a Planning Commission permit for a gun store and shooting range near the airport.

In a 6 to 2 vote late Monday night, the Assembly ruled the Planning Commission properly issued the permit last December.  The veterans’ group appealed the Juneau Mercantile and Armory permit just after it was issued, arguing the Planning Commission did not properly consider public health and safety, or the CBJ Comprehensive Plan.

Veterans’ for Peace Chapter President Phil Smith is not surprised by the decision. The group will not take the appeal to the next level, which would be Juneau Superior Court.

“The decision makes it fairly clear  that there is an enormous amount of deference that is given to municipal bodies by the courts, and plus it would cost a lot of money,” Smith says.

The appeal to this point has consisted of his time and not much expense, but a court challenge would require a lot more.

“We would need an attorney; it would be, I think, extraordinarily expensive, time consuming and ultimately futile,” he says.

But Smith says Juneau Veterans for Peace will “watch wearily as the development goes in and continue to see if there are things we can do to make our community a little gentler and kinder.”

Mayor Merrill Sanford and Assembly members Mary Becker, Jesse Kiehl, Jerry Nankervis, Carlton Smith and Randy Wanamaker voted to uphold the Planning Commission.  Karen Crane and Loren Jones voted with the appellants.

Jones was hearing officer for the case, which was heard by the Assembly on April 1st.  He says the Planning Commission did not have a sufficient record regarding health and safety.

For example, he says, during a Planning Commission hearing on the permit, there was testimony that armory shooting instructors would be certified, “but nobody asked who’s doing the certification. What are the credentials of the people doing the certification? Was it a national certification, a state certification, a private certification?”

Jones has similar questions for training and safety plans that were noted in the permit record.

“Nobody on the Planning Commission asked for copies of those, nobody asked who approved those plans, whether the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms with the feds had to approve it, who wrote them,” Jones says. “I felt that their reliance on simply saying this was a land use and zoning issue as opposed to a potential safety issue in the borough just didn’t wash with me.”

But Assembly member Jerry Nankervis says the question before the Assembly was narrow.

“We’re sitting in a quasi-judicial role and when we review an appeal of a Planning Commission decision what we’re looking at is whether the city and the Planning Commission followed the rules the city has in place for the city,” he says. “And it’s not about whether I like the project or I don’t like the project, it’s about whether the process was followed.” 

Nankervis acknowledges the Planning Commission’s discussion on safety at the gun range was thin.

The 13,000 square foot facility on Crest Street would offer semi-automatic, automatic and assault-style weapons, which Smith calls guns of war.

Nankervis – a former Juneau Police Officer – believes the new Juneau Mercantile and Armory will be a safer place than Juneau’s outdoor shooting range.

“I’ve been at the gun range, Hack Harmon, before, sighting in my rifle for deer season and had people show up with automatic weapons and shoot there, and I believe, based on my experience on what I’ve done for a living, that having that done in a supervised range is safer than having it done at an unsupervised range,” he says.

One of the things Juneau Veterans for Peace hopes would grow out of the appeal is a community conversation on gun safety.  But Smith knows it would pit “those who think any discussion of public safety along those lines is somehow an attack on second amendment rights. Then there are those who sort of more agree with Juneau Veterans for Peace that it’s just smart to have that conversation.  It’s smart to determine whether it makes a lot of sense to expose children to automatic weapons and all that entails.  It’s smart to tone down the level of rhetoric.”

Neither Assembly member Jones nor Nankervis believe the Assembly would get behind a public discourse on guns, though Nankervis says it might be a cathartic conversation.  The state of Alaska – not municipalities — regulates gun use.

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