Arkansas man says he'll sue after town denies permit for gun store

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

While we may like to think of infringements to our right to keep and bear arms largely as a blue-state problem, the truth is that even in conservative states like Arkansas you can find anti-gunners intent on enacting their own prohibitions. At least four of them sit on the city council in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, because they voted this week to keep the town gun-store free.


Keeling Grubb has been trying to sell firearms at his pawn shop for several months now, but as we recently reported, he’s run into opposition from many of his fellow residents in the tourist town, and the Eureka Springs Planning Commission deadlocked on his request for a conditional use permit that would allow him to do so. Grubb appealed that decision to the full city council, but this week they shot down his request by a vote of 4-2.

Eureka Springs is a tolerant town, the first in Arkansas to allow same-sex marriage.

But gun shops are another matter.

The City Council voted 4-2 on Monday to reject a permit application for Eureka Gun & Pawn, which would have been the only gun or pawn shop in town.

The owner, Keeling Grubb, said he’ll sue.

The council’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” because city code indicates gun and pawn shops are legal in the tourist town, Will Kellstrom, Grubb’s attorney, told the council.

As of right now, Grubb says Eureka Gun and Pawn will remain open, though it won’t be selling firearms or accepting items for pawn, which also requires that conditional use permit. The NIMBYs have spoken (along with Grubb’s supporters), and the city council is siding with those who claim a gun store and pawn shop would ruin the small-town charm of the tourist destination.

Mayor Robert “Butch” Berry said guns are a “very emotional issue” for the people of Eureka Springs.

Pat Matsukis told the council a lot of people move to Eureka Springs for a few years, then move away.

“But then there’s the rest of us that chose to be here because every morning is a blessing,” she said. “When I wake up in the morning and I open the door and I hear the birds singing, that’s a miracle. That’s what I want to hear. I don’t want to hear guns.”

Steve Killebrew told the council he moved to Eureka Springs from Texas, where he’d had guns pulled on him.

“I moved here because I do feel safe,” he said. “I don’t want to feel unsafe. I don’t want to have to pack my gun again like I did in Texas.”


I don’t know if either Matsukis or Killebrew are aware, but Arkansas is constitutional carry state, and I have no doubt that there are plenty of gun owners in Eureka Springs even without a local gun shop to serve them. The presence of a gun shop isn’t going to more crime or shots fired, and the absence of a gun store doesn’t mean that the city will be crime-free. Just look at San Francisco, where there are also no gun stores or ranges open to the public, and yet there are mass shootings and other acts of violence involving firearms happening on a regular basis.

If Eureka Springs is a nice quiet place it’s because the people who live and visit are generally nice people, though many of them are certainly not as tolerant as they’d like to think they are.

Alderman David Avanzino had a speech prepared for Monday’s meeting.

“I’m going to stand before you today and voice my strong opposition to the establishment of this pawn and gun shop within our town,” he said, while remaining seated. “Eureka Springs, with its tight-knit community and modest population of roughly 2,300, has long been a haven of tranquility and harmony. Allowing such a store to open its doors here would not only disrupt our way of life but also impose significant risk to the well-being and safety of our residents.”

I doubt that very much, but not allowing the store to open poses a significant risk to the financial bottom line of the town’s budget, given that Grubb plans to file suit over the denial. Comments like Avanzino’s make it clear that the objections aren’t to a particular location, but gun stores in general. That would appear to run afoul of the state’s firearm preemption law, which states that “A local unit of government shall not enact any ordinance or regulation pertaining to, or regulate in any other manner, the ownership, transfer, transportation, carrying, or possession of firearms, ammunition for firearms, or components of firearms, except as otherwise provided in state or federal law.”


The requirement for a special use permit for Grubb to facilitate the transfer and ownership of firearms is problematic enough, but when you add in the comments from city council members and the mayor, it’s clear that the zoning ordinance is being used to keep any and all gun stores from operating inside the city limits.

I hope that Grubb does pursue litigation here, and in the meantime I suggest that gun owners keep themselves and their tourism dollars away from Eureka Springs. There are plenty of other quaint small towns in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri to visit for a weekend getaway that aren’t trying to infringe on the rights of residents and would-be gun sellers like Grubb, and your money is much better spent in those communities than the intolerant and hoplophobic town of Eureka Springs.


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