Metro, Newton

Newton Mayor, Councilors, Community Oppose Gun Store Opening

The possibility of a gun store, Newton Firearms, opening in Newton has been met with opposition by Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, all 24 members of the Newton City Council, and members of the community. 

“The news of a firearms dealer wanting to open in Newton comes after years of so many mass shootings in so many places from schools, theaters, and concerts to grocery stores and business places,” Fuller said in a statement on Thursday. “It comes after so many gun deaths reported on the news seemingly every day, ranging from a stray bullet killing a grandmother on a front porch to a teenager on the street to a convenience store clerk during a robbery.”

Newton Firearms advertises a firearms sale floor, ammunition, gun accessories, safety training, and other services, according to its website. 

Fuller first learned that a proprietor applied to open a gun store a few weeks ago, she said. Although Fuller and the council asked Interim Chief of Police Howard Mintz and the Commissioner of Inspectional Service if it was possible to deny a license, they were told that the applicant met the qualifications for a license, Fuller said. 

Newton does not currently have zoning in place to regulate where a gun store can open and relies on state and federal regulations of gun sales, according to Fuller. Fuller and the council signed an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance on April 16. If passed, this ordinance would restrict all firearms dealers in particular zoning districts. The council made the proposed zoning amendment publicly available on Friday.

“The revised zoning ordinance would also require businesses of firearms sales uses to be approved only by special permit by the City Council and will create specific special permit criteria, including a buffer zone between a firearms dealer and potentially residences, schools, parks and other sensitive locations,” Fuller said. 

Newton City Council will discuss the proposed Firearm Business Use Zoning Amendment for the first time during the Zoning and Planning Committee meeting on Monday. Public comments will not be allowed at this meeting, but the council will hold a public hearing about the ordinance on May 10, Fuller said. 

Following the public hearing and input from the community, the council will recommend the ordinance to the full council for a final vote. 

The three-page document says that a firearm business, firing range, or gunsmith cannot be located within a radius that is yet to be determined of any residential property line, private or public K-12 school, daycare center, preschool, child care facility, public park, land or structures used for religious purposes, library, another firearm business, firing range, or gunsmith. 

The prospective store is located on the same street as Cabot’s Ice Cream and within one mile of Newton North High School, F.A. Day Middle School, Newton Early Childhood Program, Jason Walnut Park, and Horace Mann Elementary Schools.

The amendment also says that no graphic symbols or images of firearms, ammunition, or firearm accessories can be visible from the outside of the firearm business, and that the council may impose additional restrictions on signage to mitigate the impact on the neighborhood. 

If a proposed firearm business has not begun operating by the public hearing date of May 10, it will be subject to the zoning amendments when they are passed, according to the FAQ about the ordinance on the Newton government website. 

Due to constitutional protections, more restrictive regulations imposed on firearm sales are more likely to be challenged in court, according to Newton’s website. 

“While we are continuing to research all our options, it appears that Constitutional protections would make it legally very difficult, if not impossible, not to identify at least a few locations where such an establishment might seek permission from the City Council to operate,” Fuller said. “I recognize that this will not be an easy conversation for our residents or the City Councilors but it has to be approached in a legally defensible manner.”

Newton’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) issued a stop work order on Tuesday at 709 Washington St., where the store is set to open, since renovations were being done without the necessary permit, according to Fuller.

Maggie Leahy / Heights Editor

The ISD did not receive an application for a building permit or an occupancy permit from the property as of Friday, according to the Newton website. As required by state law, the ISD must process building permits within 30 days of the application filing.  

“At this time, a firearms dealer cannot begin operating at this location until these issues are resolved,” the Newton website says. “The business owner must apply for and be issued a building permit, the outstanding building code violations must [be] remedied, and an occupancy permit must be issued before any business can commence operation.” 

Concerned residents created a website, petition, GoFundMe, and Facebook group to demonstrate their opposition and raise awareness about the store, resident Laura Towvin said. 

A Newton resident of 15 years, Towvin is an advocate for gun violence prevention and has been a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America since 2013. Towvin was surprised when she first learned about a gun store opening in Newton, she said. 

“I heard about the store very early on,” Towvin said in an interview with The Heights. “I contacted some other fellow activists who I knew would also be concerned about it and together we could very quickly move to open the Facebook page, start a petition and just tried to raise awareness around the gun store opening, so that we could try to stop it from opening and see what we can do to prevent other gun stores from happening in the future.”

At the time of publication, the petition—called “Prevent Gun Sales in Newton”—garnered 7,778 signatures, the GoFundMe raised $5,205, and the Facebook group “Stop Gun Stores in Newton” has over 1,900 members. 

The petition urges the mayor to take action in changing the city’s zoning to prevent any further gun stores from opening in Newton. A gun store will lead to more gun owners in the area, which will make the community less safe, the petition says. 

The GoFundMe was started specifically to raise money for yard signs that read “Stop Gun Stores in Newton” and have a link to their website to raise visibility about the issue, according to Towvin. The yard signs are currently available, according to the Facebook group.  

“We were hoping to raise a couple hundred bucks for some yard signs and I think over $5,000 now that has been raised,” Towvin said. “Clearly, the people of Newton, are not interested in having a gun store, people I think are pretty outraged as well that we didn’t know about it, and that we don’t already have regulations on the books that would prevent this from happening.”

While many people are involved in action against the gun store, including writing letters and emails to councilors, Towvin said there are also residents who are unaware that a gun store could open in Newton. She said that not all residents are on Facebook, which is why the Stop Gun Stores in Newton Group wants to continue to raise visibility of the issue. 

Following the opposition from the community, Towvin said that she is pleased with the response from the council and the mayor. 

“They immediately took action and are taking it very seriously,” Towvin said. “I think that they reflect overall the people of Newton, we voted them in. And I think they, overall as a group, similarly feel surprised and upset about the proposed gun store … I am hopeful that they are going to do everything in their power to make sure that there’s not gun stores here.”

Given the proposed store’s vicinity to a number of schools, Towvin said adding a gun store on Washington Street is especially unwise. 

“I also think that the other context here is that we’re coming off of a global pandemic, and … rates of depression and anxiety, and suicide ideation, are very high right now, there’s already a lot of stress in our community, and having gun store will only add to that,” Towvin said. 

Towvin said that she has met with the mayor in the past to talk about gun violence and that Fuller has always been supportive. Towvin said that this is now an opportunity to work on the ordinance and zoning in Newton. 

“I think we know from the research that availability of guns is directly linked to the amount of gun violence in the community and having a gun store here or anywhere, but the reason I’m worried about this one is that having a gun store here will guarantee that there are more guns,” Towvin said. “And when there are more guns, the risk of gun violence and harm to our youth and everyone increases.”

Featured Image by Maggie Leahy / Heights Editor

April 25, 2021