Ordinarily, a town council’s zoning meeting might draw one or two interested parties to attend, but for the most part, they’re fairly quiet and sedate affairs. That was definitely not the case in Newton, Massachusetts, on Monday night, when about 500 people turned out to take part in a zoning meeting to discuss potential changes designed to block a gun store from opening up in town.
While most of those attending the virtual meeting were opposed to Newton Firearms opening for business in the town’s business district, supporters of the gun store were also on hand to provide a counterpoint to the hoplophobic arguments of opponents who are pushing for a blanket ban on gun shops.
Tom Mountain, chairman of the Newton Republican Committee held up the Declaration of Independence and chastised those who supported more strict regulation, saying they were infringing on Constitutional rights.
“You are trying your best to keep out a lawful business,” he said. “This scam isn’t going to work, you’re going to be challenged in court… the Constitution rules, you don’t.”
Isaac Fine, who grew up in Newton, challenged that sentiment.
“The Second Amendment protects the person’s right to bear arms, not to sell them,” he said. “The right to bear arms and the right to sell arms are two different things.”
Other supporters of the gun shop in the city pointed out that Massachusetts is one of the most difficult to get a license to carry, which is required before purchasing a firearm from a gun shop.
“A kid cannot just walk in and purchase a firearm,” Matthew Tocci said. “You need a license to carry, you have to be vetted.”
Several others echoed that, adding it takes months to qualify for a license to carry because of the in depth background checks.
“It’s hand wringing,” said Lucas Stilianos of the anti-gun shop sentiment.
Stilianos and others said the only type of people who would frequent the shop would have to be the law-abiding citizens.
The pro-gun shop crowd has the facts on its side, but gun control advocates ramped up the emotional rhetoric on Monday evening, even veering into xenophobia at times.
More than three dozen people from middle school and high school students to grandparents spoke during the public hearing, the bulk of whom indicated they would rather not have a gun store in town. A woman spoke of experiences with an abusive husband, one woman said her neighborhood was filled with immigrants who came from places where guns were normalized and cherished that Newton felt safe, in part, because you could not purchase a gun in this city.
“I feel threatened by this,” said Ilene Solomon a Newton realtor and resident of 50 years, echoing many. “I feel sick about this.”
Hmmm. Who are these immigrants coming from places where “guns are normalized,” I wonder? More importantly, why shouldn’t guns be normalized in Newton, considering it’s located in the United States, where the right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in the Bill of Rights?
The common theme from those opposed to the gun shop opening in town was fear: fear of immigrants, fear of legal gun owners, and more broadly, fear that a gun store inside the city limits will put residents at risk.
“Having a gun store in the vicinity of a school will inevitably make students feel unsafe,” said Ariana Foster, a fifth grade teacher in Newton, speaking on behalf of the Newton Teachers Association, asking stores be kept from schools and school walking routes.
Constantinos Zackarakis, a junior at Newton South High School said he and his fellow classmates have only known a school life that includes lock down drills and practicing looking for hiding place, should a shooter enter their school.
“Having a gun store in our city literally makes it easier for a gun to be purchased and used nearby,” he said. “Our city should be doing everything in its power to protect us and make sure nothing like that happens.”
It’s fear versus facts, but don’t be surprised if fear wins, at least for the time being. The town’s zoning board is looking at changing the zoning process for gun shops, including requiring a special permit for any gun-related business and restricting those businesses to “specific retail zones and areas that are 100 to 1,100 feet from schools and houses of worship,” but many opponents say that doesn’t go far enough, and they’re hoping the zoning board will instead adopt an outright ban on firearm-related businesses from setting up shop in the town.
As we discussed on Monday’s Cam & Co, any move to prevent gun stores from operating inside the city limits could be met with a lawsuit, and the Gun Owners Action League in the state is monitoring the situation closely. The neighboring town of Wellesley is also eyeing up a ban on gun stores, and a public meeting is set for early June, where the town’s planning board will debate an ordinance that would block gun shops from operating inside the city limits.
It’s sad to see the fear and ignorance on display in Newton, but it’s not a huge surprise. Massachusetts has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, but even those aren’t enough for the anti-gun forces in the state, who won’t be satisfied until the right to keep, bear, and acquire a firearm has been relegated from a right into a wrong.