Gun stores have become a big issue in the bedroom communities surrounding Boston over the past few months, and now one suburb is taking steps to restrict where firearm retailers can operate. Members of the Select Board in Brookline, Massachusetts are hoping to avoid a legal fight by not imposing a blanket ban on gun stores, as some activists have demanded. Instead, they’re proposing to quarantine gun stores away from the general population by confining their potential existence to a few blocks inside the city limits.
In addition to [board member Janice] Kahn’s warrant article, the Select Board also considered filing an article for a temporary gun store moratorium, which [Town Administrator Mel] Kleckner described as a “sort of belt and suspenders” addition to the zoning change. The moratorium would prohibit firearm businesses from getting a permit to open a store for six months.
Associate Town Counsel Jonathan Simpson said the proposed moratorium would be the conservative option, although he said the zoning warrant article — which he also worked on — was “in good shape.”
However, limiting gun sales raises constitutional issues, he said, which carries high stakes for the town.
“Because of that, I want to put the town in the best position possible,” Simpson said. “My promulgation of a moratorium at this stage is based on that conservative approach. I believe that extra time, the extra six months, could give us some time to beef up some things about the article.”
Still, he said, the decision boils down to a risk calculation.
“My calculation is based on a legal challenge that may never be brought in the first place,” Simpson acknowledged.
Some of the most ardent fans of restricting gun shops are actually opposed to the idea of a moratorium on gun sales, though it’s not because of any hidden support for the Second Amendment. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They’re listening to the advice of gun control groups that are warning against doing anything that could lead to a lawsuit.
Kahn opposed the moratorium, citing the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which previously advised Newton against an all-out ban.
A ban on gun stores could backfire, said Janet Goldenberg, from the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence’s Board of Directors, according to Wicked Local media partner WCVB.
“While a ban might have emotional appeal, it’s a bad idea,” she said. “It creates the potential for the Supreme Court to overturn not just this ban, but restrictive zoning on gun shops.”
If Brookline implements a moratorium, Kahn said she worries “we’re actually going to create an issue that really shouldn’t have any bandwidth in this town.”
While support for gun control is nothing new in the Boston area, this most recent anti-gun hysteria really ramped into high gear when a gun store popped up in nearby Newton in the heart of the town’s business district. Hundreds of residents launched a campaign to shut down the shop before it could officially open for business, and they succeeded when the town not only refused to grant Newton Firearms a permit to do renovations inside the building housing the shop, but changed the town’s zoning laws and banned all gun stores from operating in the downtown retail district (a marijuana dispensary located next door to Newton Firearms continues to operate without any controversy).
Since then, several other suburbs have taken steps to impose their own restrictions, and some activists in Newton are still gunning to put an all-out ban in place, despite the warnings by gun control groups like Giffords that such a move would result in litigation and a potential precedent-setting decision that could backfire on the anti-gun extremists.
On the one hand, it’s good that even the gun control lobby recognizes that a blanket ban on gun stores is likely to be viewed by the courts as unconstitutional. On the other hand, the hoplophobes in charge want to make it as difficult as possible for residents to embrace their Second Amendment rights, while protecting their own rear ends against the prospect of a lawsuit. The prevailing attitude in Brookline and the other Boston suburbs is one that’s still fundamentally hostile to the exercise of a civil right, and that’s nothing to celebrate.