Metro, Newton

A Year After Newton Imposed Harsh Restrictions on Gun Stores, Gun Control Advocates Want More

A year has passed since a proposal to build a gun store in Newton embroiled residents in debate. Following public backlash and a City Council response posing greater zoning regulations, it’s unlikely a firearms store will open in the city anytime soon.

Now, some local gun control advocates say there’s more work to be done.

“I was extremely relieved and happy that the gun store did not open,” said Laura Towvim, a founding member of the Newton Gun Violence Prevention Collaborative (NGVPC). “But as part of that process, I learned that there are 10 … gun stores within a 30-minute drive of my house. So there’s not a gun store in Newton, but we’re surrounded by lots of other communities that don’t have any regulations on the books.”

In early June 2021, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and the City Council approved Newton’s first-ever zoning restrictions and regulations regarding firearms businesses, gun makers, and gun ranges.

In a 23-to-1 City Council vote, Newton approved new measures requiring potential firearms businesses to have a special permit and a two-thirds majority vote of approval from the Newton City Council to open in the city.

“The zoning amendment also incorporates buffer distances from residences and sensitive uses [such as] daycare centers and schools,” Mayor Fuller wrote in a newsletter update in June 2021. 

The amendment lists other buffers around parks, libraries, and places of worship.

“A gun store will make us all less safe,” an 2021 NGVPC petition with over 10,000 signatures  reads. “While Newton’s gun ownership rates are low, the presence of a gun store guarantees that there will be more guns in the hands of Newton residents, as well as residents in surrounding areas. Research is clear that more guns in a community lead to more deaths through homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings.”

The City Council’s regulations are not a full ban but still vastly limit where a firearms business could open. Prior to the zoning rule, there were 777 properties on which a firearms business could set up without City Council approval, according to Ward 4 Councilor-at-Large Josh Krintzman. Now, there are three.

But some residents remained worried that zoning ordinances would fail as a safeguard and pushed for a citywide ban on the sale of firearms. NGVPC activists warned that such a ban in Newton could trigger intervention by the Supreme Court. 

In June 2021, the City Council voted 6–0 with one abstention against a complete ban on gun stores, sticking with the strategic use of zoning regulations to prevent the proliferation of access to firearms.

Since its advocacy work last summer, the NGVPC has continued working to promote gun safety in Newton.

The NGVPC’s ongoing efforts have involved spreading information from organizations working on the state and federal level, such as the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, through its email list and Facebook group. 

The NGVPC lobbied last spring for the passage of an ordinance preventing air rifles from being fired within city limits after a resident shot one in his West Newton backyard.

“We want to harness that energy that we had around the gun store issue to other initiatives that can make us safer,” Towvim said. 

Heather Tausig, Towvim’s founding partner, said the collaborative is organizing a gun buyback, working with Newton schools to promote a safe storage program, and holding educational forums with the Newton’s police and Health & Human Services Department. 

“[Passing the zoning ordinance] felt like another step,” Tausig said. “But legislation is kind of a marathon.”

Featured Image by Steve Mooney / Heights Editor

September 25, 2022