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The city of Newton last month adopted zoning changes that limit locations and restrict operations for firearms businesses that want to open within city limits.
Among other provisions, the zoning amendment establishes buffers between firearms businesses and places like schools and daycare facilities, and requires firearms businesses to seek special permits. The restrictions apply to firearms dealers, gun ranges and gunsmiths, and come as neighboring communities are considering similar measures.
The City Council approved the zoning restrictions on June 2 by a 23-1 vote, and Mayor Ruthanne Fuller signed the order the next day. The measures grew out of opposition this spring to a gun store that had planned to open in a prominent spot near homes and schools. According to city officials, the new restrictions will prevent the store from opening at that location.
More generally, the push for stronger rules reflects growing community concerns about gun violence and opposition to having any firearms businesses in the city, said City Council President Susan Albright.
“Actually, we had gun shops in Newton in the past, and nobody cared,” Albright said. “But it’s the tone of the times, and you have to just adjust to that.”
Under the new rules, a firearms business cannot open within 150 feet of homes, or operate within 1,000 feet of daycares, schools (from preschool through university level), playgrounds or parks, religious buildings, libraries, nursing homes, or existing firearms businesses. The necessary special permit requires a two-thirds majority of the City Council and gives the council the authority over business hours and signage.
The new zoning limits firearms businesses to three small areas, including an area along Route 9 in Chestnut Hill. Before the restrictions went into effect, city officials said, firearms businesses could have opened without the council’s approval on 777 different land parcels.
Given residents’ concerns about gun shops in the city, Albright said zoning restrictions were the appropriate vehicle for exerting more control over firearms businesses. The city had previously used zoning to address public health, welfare and safety concerns related to marijuana and adult literature businesses, she said, “so I knew that zoning was the way to go.”
With the zoning restrictions in place, several councillors are pursuing a full ban on firearms businesses in Newton. A proposed ban failed to pass at the council’s July 12 meeting, but the council this fall is expected to consider a proposed ban through a different mechanism — by changing the city’s general ordinances to prohibit the sale or manufacturing of firearms in Newton. Though the initial zoning restrictions received broad support, the mayor’s office and the city’s legal department have expressed concerns that a full ban would expose Newton to legal challenges on Second Amendment grounds.
For other communities contemplating similar measures, Newton officials recommend working closely with municipal counsel to ensure the legality of any proposal. The mayor emphasized the importance of having proactive measures in place and reaching out to important stakeholders, before potential conflicts arise over specific projects.
“Involve the legislative body of your community and residents early in the process,” Fuller said, “and communicate with the public often about the steps being taken.”
Other communities interested in learning more about Newton’s efforts can contact the city’s Law and Planning and Development departments.
“We are happy to share what we learned,” Fuller said.
The towns of Wellesley, Watertown and Brookline have been holding public discussions about possible new restrictions on firearms-related businesses, and Brookline Town Administrator Mel Kleckner said officials are preparing warrant articles for consideration at its fall Town Meeting.