Elected officials and residents in Newton are banding together to oppose an effort to open a gun shop in the city.
The controversy over the proposed business at 709 Washington St. in Newtonville erupted last week, when concerned residents began contacting city councilors over the issue, according to WHDH.
An online petition to stop the shop, Newton Firearms LLC, from opening had more than 6,871 signatures as of Thursday evening, with organizers expressing worries that the proposed location is on the same block as an ice cream shop and less than a mile from five schools, including Newton North High School.
“Having a gun store in Newton would undermine our reputation as a welcoming and progressive city,” the petition reads. “More importantly, a gun store will make us all less safe.”
In response to outcry from residents, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller issued a statement on Friday announcing steps city officials would be taking in an effort to prevent the shop from opening.
“Like many of us, I am deeply concerned about a firearms store which has started taking the steps to potentially open,” she wrote.
The mayor announced that in conjunction with the council, the city is working to amend zoning rules to limit the proposed gun shop and any future proposed stores to certain districts. The proposed change would also require gun sale operations to have a special permit approved by the City Council, complete with criteria including a buffer zone between the firearms dealer and schools and residences.
Newton doesn’t currently have any zoning regulations related to firearm dealers, according to information released by the city last week.
The city also issued a stop work order for the proposed gun shop on Tuesday because the owner did not have a building permit for work ongoing in the storefront, according to Patch. Newton City Hall spokesperson Ellen Ishkanian told the newspaper the owner never applied for a permit before starting work.
But the gun shop is not without support. A dueling petition, “Allow Gun Sales in Newton,” is also circulating amid the debate. As of Thursday, it had garnered 563 signatures.
On the website for Newton Firearms, the business is described as “safe, secure, and always professional.”
“Newton Firearms caters to all needs,” the website reads. “Whether it’s home safety, hunting, personal protection, ammo, training or all other forms of firearm related accessories, we’ll help you get what you’re looking for. Our professional staff is here to assist you 6 days a week … Everyone who works at NF, from the owners to the sales crew, are shooters first. We absolutely love what we do.”
The owner of the proposed shop, Joseph Kammouj, declined to comment to both Patch and the Boston Globe on the ongoing efforts to prevent him from opening.
“This is just a business, like any other business,” Kammouj told the Globe when asked to respond to the community backlash.
Newton city councilors and told WHDH the initial application for Newton Firearms went to the police chief, so officials only learned of the gun shop last week when contacted by worried constituents.
“The police had been asked to review his security plan and they in fact had already reviewed it already,” City Council President Susan Albright told the station.
According to the Globe, Kammouj sent a letter to the city’s interim police chief, Howard Mintz, dated Jan. 27 announcing his plan to open the gun shop. Newton police then completed a background check and inspected the proposed location as part of the state’s review process for licensing a firearms dealer. The state then approved Kammouj’s license to sell guns at the 709 Washington St. location on Tuesday.
Tim Stehly, who lives in the neighborhood with his pregnant wife and toddler, told Patch his biggest concern about the proposed business is the proximity to schools and homes.
“There have been studies relating to the location of [gun shops] and increases in gun related suicides,” he told the newspaper. “Personally, I don’t think anyone in this country needs a gun, but I understand that will never happen. I don’t understand why my children and all those children who go to school within a 1 miles radius of this store should sacrifice their safety, so someone can purchase a weapon.”
The Newton City Council has scheduled a May 10 public hearing on the proposed zoning rules for gun shops and a subcommittee is also expected to discuss the matter on Monday, according to the Globe.
Laura Towvim, a Newton resident and gun control activist who has helped organize the petition against the shop, told the newspaper the safety concerns related to the proposal are even more urgent in the face of the deadly mass shootings that have occurred in recent weeks and months.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden called gun violence in the United States a “public health epidemic” and announced a series of executive actions to address the crisis.
“This is a local issue, but it reflects everyone’s horror and distress at what’s been going on in this country for years,” Towvim told the Globe. “A gun store doesn’t fit in with Newton’s values.”
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