California town bans retail sales of firearms

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

A southern California woman hoping to open up a retail space for her home-based firearms business has sparked a huge controversy over gun sales in the San Diego suburb of Imperial Beach, with the local city council rushing to impose a ban on retail gun sales and a moratorium on any and all firearms retailers in the city.


As the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, the 4-1 decision to halt gun sales and impose an initial 45-day moratorium on all business licenses for firearms retailers that can be extended for up to two years came after Stephanie Gilreath sought a permit allowing her to open up a retail shop called The Outdoor Woman in town. While Gilreath anticipated that gun sales would make up only about 10% of her business, with the bulk of her sales coming from sporting goods and apparel, the prospect of any firearms retailer opening its doors was 100% unacceptable to the anti-gun council members.

In the past, Imperial Beach has granted licenses to home-based gun businesses, including to Gilreath for Imperial Beach Guns, which she operated from 2014 through 2020. The business closed locally when she relocated to Colorado with her husband, who at the time served in the Navy, she said. Now in retirement and back in the South County community, Gilreath said she wants to open a women’s focused business. In April, she applied for another home-based license for online sales of firearms and sporting goods under Outdoor Women, LLC. The city granted the permit in May.

She hit a snag when applying last month for a commercial retail permit.

“We were operating here starting in 2014. They’ve never had any complaints,” said Gilreath. “We were taken aback, especially since we’re going from a full-fledged gun store down to firearms are only 10 percent of the business.”

She and several people who spoke during public comment said the moratorium appeared to be an overreach.

“She’s (Gilreath) been in the community before…She’s a federally licensed dealer and all federally licensed dealers are scrutinized heavily federally and by the state,” said Michael Schwartz, political director of San Diego County Gun Owners. “A moratorium just seems so extreme.”

Councilmember Jack Fisher acknowledged the public’s concerns, but said the council was not considering whether to grant a license to Outdoor Women, but rather “a moratorium that will help us create an ordinance that will cover any business of this type that wants to open.”

Mayor Paloma Aguirre agreed.

“It’s something that we’ve never crafted in our city and we’re talking about a gun store by a responsible gun owner with responsible staff, all of the training that was mentioned earlier, but we need to make sure that we do it right, and that we need to make sure that we do it in a way that benefits our community,” she said.


Those arguments ring hollow considering Gilreath had previously operated a home-based firearms business for years without any issue. It was only when Gilreath wanted to open a brick-and-mortar store open to the public that the city council suddenly decided they needed to freeze out gun shops while they figured out what kind of restrictions they want to impose.

Some restrictions city staff said they would consider studying include distancing requirements, such as from schools; which zones should be allowed to sell guns and ammunition; should the city conduct background checks on all licensees and employees; and whether different rules would apply for gun stores and sporting goods retailers.

What do you want to bet that when those new requirements are unveiled they’ll place most, if not all, of Imperial Beach off-limits to gun shops? We’ve seen that strategy deployed in big cities like Chicago as well as small towns like Newton, Massachusetts, where governments impose zoning restrictions that shunt gun shops off to out-of-the-way and undesirable locations or even prevent them from opening altogether.

Imperial Beach is at least the second California locale to adopt a freeze on firearms retailers. Redwood City, located about halfway between San Francisco and San Joe, imposed a moratorium on gun shops last year after two business applied for permits to operate in areas of the city zoned for retail, and so far city officials have been successful in keeping any FFLs from opening their doors.


These types of restrictions are ripe for a court challenge, but that takes time and money. Many retailers may choose to simply try to set up shop in a friendlier location rather than try to fight City Hall, so finding plaintiffs who are willing to challenge these bans isn’t always easy. I hope at the end of the 45-day moratorium Gilreath has no need to pursue litigation, but given the animosity her business has received to date I highly doubt the city council is going to come up with any reasonable zoning requirements for firearm retailers. We’ll be monitoring the situation in Imperial Beach going forward, as well as keeping a close watch on any other communities in California that may try to do the same thing.

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