If you can’t ban gun ownership, what’s the next best (or worst) thing? Banning the purchase of a gun and ammunition, right? After all, if you make it incredibly difficult to purchase a gun, some otherwise would-be gun owners will choose to go without, and if you’re a gun control fan, that’s a good thing.
The town of Newton, Massachusetts is set to take another step towards a backdoor ban on gun shops tonight, when the local Zoning and Planning Committee meets to discuss a new firearms retailer that’s trying to open its doors downtown, much to the dismay and horror of hoplophobes who’ve flooded the mayor and council members with demands to do something to prevent the store from doing business.
My favorite objection was from the resident who said, “This is a densely populated community with young children and families that live around here so we don’t think it’s safe to put a gun shop here.” The fact that there’s a marijuana dispensary that’s already open next to where the gun shop wants to do business doesn’t bother any of these parents, though the risk of a kid getting a contact high is much higher than the risk of a negligent discharge from the gun shop injuring a passerby.
While I personally kind of love the idea of a dispensary and a gun shop operating side-by-side, it’s clear that there are hundreds of residents in Newton who disagree, and their anti-gun bigotry is spreading, with the town of Wellesley, Massachusetts also examining changing their zoning laws to outright forbid any gun shop from opening within the city limits. On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, the head of one of the state’s largest Second Amendment organizations explains why he’s concerned that this is the start of a new trend.
The Gun Owners Action League’s Jim Wallace says that hostility to gun shops isn’t exactly new in the state, pointing to former Boston mayor Thomas Menino’s back room maneuvers to shutter the last gun store in the city more than a decade ago. What’s different about what we’re seeing now, says Wallace, is that anti-gun politicians are being bolder and more open about what they’re doing. There’s nothing subtle or discreet about Wellesley’s proposed changes to their zoning laws, for example.
The proposed amendment is to add a new section 16.I that no new building or structure shall be constructed or used, in whole or in part, and no building or structure, or part thereof, shall be altered, enlarged, reconstructed or used, and no land shall be used, in any part of the Town: “For the manufacture, sale, or lease of any Weapon, Machine Gun, Ammunition, Bump Stock, Large Capacity Feeding Device, Stun Gun, or Trigger Crank, or by any person engaged in the business of a Gunsmith in any zoning district. Each capitalized term shall have the definition set forth in G.L.c.140,§ 121.
If Wellesley officials are willing and eager to ban the manufacture and sale of firearms and ammunition, don’t tell me they wouldn’t ban the possession of those items as well given the chance. The only reason they’re not including a D.C.-style ban on owning guns is the fact that the Supreme Court has already ruled that unconstitutional.
Keep in mind, every person buying a gun from a gun shop in Massachusetts not only has to pass a background check at the point of sale, but must first pass a background check investigation and be deemed “suitable” to own a gun by their local police department. Even with those restrictions in place, however, the thought of responsible citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights is just too much for these anti-gun nuts to bear.
As for a potential court case against Wellesley or Newton, Wallace says if they actually do put these new restrictions in place, one is almost certainly coming. Federal courts haven’t given much attention to this issue, though the city of Chicago ultimately dropped its own formal ban on gun stores back in 2014 after a federal judge ruled their zoning laws violated the Constitution.
Unfortunately, Chicago is also an example of how cities can still put up enough barriers that gun stores can’t operate, even in the absence of a formal ban. The city tweaked its zoning laws to theoretically allow for gun stores, but there weren’t any plots of land in the city that actually met all of the zoning requirements. When a judge threw out that scheme as well, the city switched up its strategy and now requires approval for special use permits and other licenses that aren’t likely to be given to any potential firearms retailer, and the city of Chicago still has no gun stores or gun ranges inside the city limits.
The Ninth Circuit has also upheld similar zoning restrictions that have curtailed any new gun stores from opening in Alameda County, California, declaring that “no historical authority suggests that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to sell a firearm.”
The Supreme Court turned away that case in 2018, but Wellesley and Newton might give the Supreme Court another chance to weigh in, and now that we’ve got Amy Coney Barrett on the bench instead of Ruth Bader Ginsberg the odds of the Court taking the case would be better than they were three years ago. Newton and Wellesley still have time to do back off their attempts to lock gun shops out of doing business in their communities, but with the anti-gun zealotry that we’ve witnessed from locals, I have no doubt both towns will choose to do the wrong thing here. I just hope if they do, this time SCOTUS isn’t silent.