The Second Amendment Sanctuary movement began just a few years ago, but has become an enormously successful grassroots movement, with more than 1,000 counties and several states (including Texas) approving Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions and legislation since 2018. There really isn’t a corollary to the 2A Sanctuary movement on the anti-gun side at the moment, but we may be witnessing the start of one in Massachusetts, where a growing number of towns are debating zoning laws to exclude or restrict gun shops from operating inside their city limits.
Boston suburb Brookline looks to be joining communities like Newton and Wellesley in trying to prevent gun stores from opening up, or at least restrict where they can operate, with city administrator Mel Kleckner telling Boston-based website Universal Hub that the town is “actively exploring” changes to the city code in order to block the commercial sale of firearms in as much of the town as possible.
Brookline officials are “actively exploring zoning restrictions and other mechanisms to regulate gun stores” and will likely propose general and zoning bylaw changes at the fall Town Meeting in November, according to Kleckner. Zoning changes require two-thirds approval in Town Meeting.
On Wednesday, May 26, Newton’s Zoning and Planning Committee will be discussing a total ban on gun shops.
“At this time it is unclear whether a municipality could prevent this type of establishment outright through zoning,” Kleckner wrote. “It is more likely that zoning could limit the zoning districts it would be allowed in and/or create a special permit process for this specific use.”
It’s interesting that the city officials like Kleckner appear to be more reluctant to impose a complete ban on gun stores than residents. Even in Newton, where the Zoning and Planning Committee is set to take up such a ban, the city council is also considering a slightly less onerous ordinance that would restrict gun shops to three districts in the town, none of which are anywhere near the downtown business district where Newton Firearms already has a building.
Activists in Newton, on the other hand, have a spiffy website where those opposed to gun stores can get a yard sign or donate money to purchase more. So far they’ve raised nearly $7,000 to buy signs and “help fund other initiatives in pursuit if [sic] our ultimate goal: Stopping the Opening of Gun Stores in Newton,” which is a pretty clear sign that they’re not going to be satisfied if gun shops are simply shunted off to industrial areas or out-of-the-way locations within the city limits.
While the local politicians in Newton are trying to figure out what their next steps will be, they managed to slap a “stop work order” on Newton Firearms last month, preventing the business from completing its remodeling and opening its doors to customers.
The stop-work order issued Tuesday came as the city council is scrambling to regulate the zoning of this and future proposed gun shops in Newton, as thousands of Newton residents have asked the city to do something to regulate the zoning of such gun shops.
“Every single councilor has signed on to an item that’s very specific about looking into what kind of regulations we can put on gun stores,” City Councilor Rick Lipof said in a phone interview.
The Ward 8 at-large councilor and vice-president of the council estimated the council had received about 100 emails a day since Friday, the day after it came to light a gun shop was proposed for 709 Washington St.
“If I received 500 emails, 495 have been against, and five have been for the shop,” he said.
There is just shy of 1,700 registered gun owners in Newton, he said. But, because of the history we are living right now, it’s a bad time to open a gun shop, he said.
The objections by the anti-gun forces in Newton have nothing to do with the timing of the store opening and everything to do with its location. It will never be the right time for a gun store for these folks, and any gun shop inside the city limits will be seen by the hoplophobes as an affront to their personal safety.
“My biggest concern is the proximity to schools and a residential neighborhood, which has a lot of families with young children,” said Tim Stehly who lives nearby with his pregnant wife and toddler.
“There have been studies relating to the location of [gun shops] and increases in gun related suicides,” he added. “Personally, I don’t think anyone in this country needs a gun, but I understand that will never happen. I don’t understand why my children and all those children who go to school within a 1 miles radius of this store should sacrifice their safety, so someone can purchase a weapon.”
The silliest part about this argument is that Newton Firearms is trying to open next to an existing business; a marijuana dispensary. If parents are concerned about their children going to school within a mile of a gun store, aren’t they the slightest bit bothered by their same kids walking past a pot shop on their way to and from school? After all, their kids are more likely to get a contact high from the patrons of the dispensary than they are to be put at risk by a customer of Newton Firearms (though to be fair, the chances of either happening are astronomically low). And every sale at Newton Firearms will go through multiple background checks; first from the local police who must approve or deny a gun license application, and then at the gun shop itself, when the buyer undergoes a NICS check before he or she can take possession of the gun. In other words, all of the restrictive gun laws already in place in the state aren’t enough for the anti-gun activists, whose real goal is to prevent as many people as possible from exercising their Second Amendment rights.
Newton, Wellesley, and now Brookline. How many more towns in Massachusetts are going to hop on the anti-gun shop bandwagon in the weeks ahead, and is there anything that can be done to stop them? Jim Wallace of the Gun Owners Action League told me a few weeks ago that litigation is likely, but first these ordinances have to go into effect and a party must be injured by the new restrictions in order to have standing in court. It may prove impossible to prevent these restrictions and bans from being put in place, but once they’re on the books, expect the legal challenges to follow.