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Massachusetts town tries to retroactively vote out new gun shop

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Newton, Massachusetts is a suburb of Boston with a population of roughly 90,000 people. It has a busy downtown business district, or at least it did before the pandemic hit. But trouble is brewing in Newton this spring because of a new business that recently opened up there. Few people seemed to notice when Newton Firearms moved in because they hadn’t put up any large business signs or run many advertisements. The doors aren’t even unlocked. There’s a sign in the front door providing a phone number to call if you’d like an appointment.

Residents eventually noticed Newton Firearms, however, and not all of them were happy about it. They began complaining about the “dangers” of having a gun shop in the middle of the shopping district and the municipal government is clearly listening to those complaints. Some members of the City Council are calling for action, but what exactly is it that they think they can do? (CBS Boston)

“This is a densely populated community with young children and families that live around here so we don’t think it’s safe to put a gun shop here,” neighbor Adele Jasperse told WBZ-TV.

“There’s a lot of children in this area and also it’s a residential area directly behind us,” said realtor Cynthia Lanciloti.

“For me, it’s certainly more about safety,” said Alexandra Wolf, who started a Facebook group to stop the store. “Where there are gun stores there are going to be areas around them that have more gun violence, there is data out there that shows about you know what happens in proximity to gun stores. More guns, you have more gun violence.”

The complaints coming from most of these residents are quite frankly laughable. Why there would be more children in the city’s business district than in any other neighborhood is a mystery. Even more bizarre is one activist’s claim that there is “data out there” showing that there’s more gun violence in proximity to gun stores. I made an honest effort to see if I could find some set of statistics backing up that wild claim, but it doesn’t appear to exist. In reality, gun stores are generally one of the safest places you can be because they are hands-down one of the worst places to try to rob. (For reasons that should be obvious.)

As to what these neighbors think can be done about this “problem,” they seem to be dumping it in the lap of the City Council. In response, at least one member of the council spoke to the press and turned the hyperbole dial up to 11.

“I see the fear in my kids. My 13-year-old said to me, ‘Don’t let them open a gun shop. Someone is going to buy a gun and come shoot up my school,” said Ward 2 City Councilor Emily Norton.

The councilwoman quoted above said that the City Council will “take up the issue” in the coming weeks and try to “shut down Newton Firearms.” Additionally, the Mayor is quoted as saying that she’s already working on amending the local zoning ordinances.

Have any of these people thought this through? Newton Firearms couldn’t have opened up for business unless they applied for and were granted a permit to do so. They almost certainly would have had to state the purpose of the business they intended to open when applying to lease or purchase the property. If anyone was going to do something to stop them, that would have been the time.

Now that the permit has presumably been granted and the shop is open, there’s little to be done provided the owners obey all of the local business regulations. You can’t simply cancel a valid permit that you’ve already investigated and granted. If you’re going to be upset with someone, go yell at the person who signed off on the permit.

As far as the Mayor’s claims go, any changes to the zoning laws would almost certainly have to contain grandfather clauses for businesses that were in operation before the change went into effect. Failing to do so could open the city up to a ruinous lawsuit for imposing economic harm to the business. I suppose the city government could keep dreaming up nuisance acts to make life miserable for the gun shop’s owners until they finally succeeded in “canceling” them, but it would be a legally dubious campaign at best.

A far better idea would be for these activists to encourage their neighbors to vote with their wallets and not shop there. If Newton Firearms can’t do enough business to turn a profit, the free market will eliminate them soon enough. But the City Council may find that gun stores are actually more popular now than they have been in a while.