A former grocery store building in Ramsey will soon attract people learning how to defend themselves.
The Ramsey City Council Jan. 28 unanimously approved a conditional use permit for a Ramsey business to construct an indoor shooting range at 6001 167th Ave. NW.
This means Total Defense no longer has to send customers to other private gun ranges after spending half-a-day with them in the classroom. Having over 10 times more space than their current location in a Ramsey strip mall also means they can continue to expand their self-defense courses and product sales line for weapons and clothing.
Ward One Councilmember Jill Johns preferred to see something other than an indoor shooting range in this shopping center, but she said she knows the overwhelming message from her constituents is they want something to fill a space that has been vacant for a few years.
“I hear a lot from people within the ward who just want to see something good happen there,” Johns said. “To have a destination up in that location is important. While I don’t have any guns and I don’t really get it, I sure have been hearing from my friends and neighbors that that’s something they’d like to see in that area. There seems to be a lot of community support for it.”
Bruce Mathson has lived near this shopping center since 2006 and has owned Fairway Liquors across the street from Total Defense’s new location for about 18 months.
While Mathson thinks Total Defense’s proposal is a good idea because it could bring more people to the shopping center, he feels the area needs more homes to truly make this retail node successful.
The closest business is Little Me Childcare, and owner Amber Brick would have preferred to see this indoor shooting range go elsewhere. Ramsey city staff did hand deliver her a notice about an open house and public hearing on Total Defense’s proposal, but she said she was out of town when these meetings took place. The city never heard a response from Brick.
Brick is concerned about the possibility of gunfire being heard when kids are playing outside or when their parents are picking them up.
“While we are happy there is a possibility of business going in next door, we are not thrilled about the possibility Total Defense may be going in next door to a childcare center housing 40 children during the day,” Brick said. “It’s the issue of the firing range that doesn’t sit well with us.”
A building within a building
A gun range will essentially be dropped into the existing building, according to Marty Fisher of Premier Commercial Properties in Ramsey, who brokered the deal between building owner Java Enterprises, LLC and Total Defense.
The 18,000 square-foot building already had 12-inch concrete walls. The new interior walls will be eight inches of solid grout filled concrete masonry.
The two walls should result in a good noise buffering and the new interior wall itself would accomplish the bullet containment, according to a Ramsey city staff report to the council.
The Ramsey Police Department conducted a noise test at the Anoka Police Department’s indoor shooting range, which only has one wall of sand-filled cement blocks. At 20 to 25 feet from the building, decibel levels were about 60. This sound level is comparable to a normal conversation.
Beyond the noise and bullet containment, the new building within a building must have a good ventilation system equipped with HEPA filtration to capture the lead gunsmoke particles prior to exhausting to the exterior of the building.
“There will be a substantial investment,” said Tom Gonyea of Java Enterprises, LLC, who would not comment on what that cost would be.
Gonyea has already put in a lot of work to make the building marketable since he bought it for $100,000 last September.
Debris left behind from the old grocery store that was not auctioned off by the bank littered the floor. Thieves had stolen copper pipes and wires from inside the building and the roof-top HVAC units. The building was so cold that the water pipes had frozen and burst.
When Total Defense co-owners Dan Wellman and Kurt Ochs left Gander Mountain in Blaine in the summer of 2011 to start their own business, they wanted it to be more than a place to buy firearms.
Wellman has a black belt in Taekwondo and has trained in 30 other styles of martial arts. He once was a family therapist and worked at a mental health center, so he understands what some people are capable of.
His own cousin was murdered, so his motivation through life has been to teach people how to protect themselves, but also to understand the emotional trauma that can come from a shooting and how to avoid confrontation, according to Wellman.
“It’s not just a gun range. It’s a total approach to defense,” Fisher said.
Almost half of Total Defense’s clientèle are now women. It hosts Survival Fighting 101 classes that teach a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) style of fighting so smaller people can defend themselves against larger and stronger attackers. They also have a separate self-defense class just for women.
The biggest draw is its conceal-carry classes. When Total Defense first started in August 2011, it drew 10 people to an average weekend class.
Demand picked up after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 because of the uncertainty over what the federal government would do with gun laws, according to Wellman and Ochs.
About four hours is set aside for the classroom to discuss the mechanics of firearms and how to safely handle and store them, the conceal-carry law, the emotional impact firing a gun at a person can have and how to avoid or defuse potential confrontations.
The last couple of hours is spent at a shooting range. Without one of its own, Total Defense was forced to send customers to competitors.
“Now we have the ability to do everything in-house,” Ochs said.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, there are seven shooting ranges in Anoka County.
Chuck Niska, a DNR shooting range coordinator, said indoor shooting ranges are more rare than outdoor ranges because they require a much higher investment. Bill’s Gun Shop & Range has locations in Circle Pines and Robbinsdale and are well-known establishments, Niska said. The Osseo Gun Club is also opening an indoor gun range.
Mayor Sarah Strommen said people in her own household have driven as far away as North Branch to find an indoor shooting range and she knows of one that opened in Rogers recently.
“It’s awesome. It’s more than something is better than nothing,” said Councilmember Randy Backous. “There truly isn’t something like this around. I think it will be a destination. I can’t wait to go there myself.”
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]