Judge Upholds Arkansas Town's Bid to Block Gun Store From Opening

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

For more than a year now, Caleb Grubb has been trying to get the necessary permits to open up a gun store and pawn shop in the small town of Eureka Springs. Once a Prohibition paradise that was the vacation getaway for the likes of Al Capone, Eureka Springs is now a state historic district and a popular tourist destination, but it hasn't had a gun store inside the city limits for close to a decade thanks to the anti-gun animosity of the city council. 

Advertisement

When the town's Zoning Board deadlocked on approving a conditional use permit to open up a gun store, Grubb appealed to the Eureka Springs City Council but was rejected in a 4-2 vote. Grubb then sought to challenge that denial in court, but on Thursday Carroll County Circuit Judge Scott Jackson ruled in favor of the city, telling Grubb his only option is to reapply for a permit he knows he has no chance of receiving. 

"This court cannot find that the vote of the planning and zoning and the City Council was an absolute abuse," Jackson said in his ruling after Thursday's trial. "Mr. Grubb's remedy in this case is to reapply."

"I am shocked that the Arkansas state law means nothing," said Grubb, referring to Arkansas Code Annotated 14-54-1411, which prevents cities from regulating the ownership, transfer, transportation, carrying or possession of firearms.

He said reapplying could be a fruitless endeavor because three of the six City Council members testified on Thursday that "they don't want a gun shop anywhere in town."

"Obviously, we're going to appeal," said W. Whitfield Hyman of Fort Smith, Grubb's attorney. "I don't see how the statute that says you can't regulate the transfer or the ownership of firearms in any way doesn't apply in this situation. I think you have to go through some pretty severe mental gymnastics to reach that conclusion. But I think the Court of Appeals or the Arkansas Supreme Court will rectify it and kick it back down. I just hope that it's sooner rather than later."

Advertisement

Jackson's decision really is confounding given the text of the firearms preemption law in Arkansas, which states: 

  1. (A) 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.

  2. (B) This shall not prevent the enactment of an ordinance regulating or forbidding the unsafe discharge of a firearm.

The only carveout to the preemption law is the section allowing those ordinances for "unsafe discharge of a firearm". Nowhere does the law grant county or local governments the authority to deny a gun store from operating within its borders. To the contrary, the statute specifically forbids those political subdivisions from enacting any regulation affecting the ownership or transfer of firearms. 

Eureka Springs might be able to get away with limiting the location of any FFL to certain parts of town, but the preemption law should take a complete ban off the table. I'm glad that Grubb is planning on appealing Jackson's decision, but it might be time for lawmakers in Little Rock to make some changes to the preemption statute; explicitly forbidding communities from disallowing gun stores, and providing an avenue for gun owners to seek financial sanctions against local officials who violate the preemption statute. The threat of litigation hasn't brought the Eureka Springs City Council to heel, but that might change if they were forced to pay Grubb from their own pocket for violating state law. 

Advertisement

While Grubb's legal saga continues, he's managed to come up with an end-around the city council by opening up a store just outside the city limits. If you're passing through Eureka Springs between the hours of 1 to 4 p.m. on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday stop in, pay him a visit, and maybe make a purchase to help him with the attorneys' fees. 


Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Advertisement
Advertisement