Signs opposing a gun store proposed for this largely residential Boston suburb are sprouting like daffodils across the lawns in Newton, Massachusetts. The store in question would be just spitting distance from a marijuana dispensary! No wonder so many in my hometown are, pardon the expression, up at arms. Nor is it surprising, perhaps, that a place that went two-to-one for Joe Biden in 2020 and nearly five-to-one for Hillary Clinton in 2016 would want to impose an outright ban on gun shops. For half a century, Newton has been a leading liberal community in a dependably blue state. So what could possibly be troubling about the burgeoning movement to ban all gun stores from “The Garden City?” It’s a question of strategy.
Forty thousand deaths a year are due to guns. Three quarters of all murders are by guns. Both murders and suicides have gone up in recent years. In my two decades as WCVB-TV, Channel 5 editorial director, I regularly editorialized against Saturday night specials. So, too, against assault weapons, which are as fit to be banned as were machine guns in 1986 when the buying and selling of those were outlawed. The Gun Owners Action League, the Massachusetts version of the NRA, regularly came into the station to rebut our editorials. In recent years, I have blogged often in support of additional gun safety measures, including more intensive background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and limiting magazine size. So what could possibly be wrong with Newton’s banning gun stores altogether?
Outright bans have failed around the country as a violation of the Second Amendment. An outright ban in Newton sounds very appealing, but history suggests it could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and not pass Constitutional muster in a Clarence Thomas-dominated decision. The City would be left bare.
Ardent proponents of a ban insist that, while the Second Amendment protects the right to own and possess, the right to purchase in a particular location is not guaranteed. That means no constitutional right to have a gun shop or firing range in every community. With two gun stores in Waltham, one in Weston, Dedham, Norwood, Natick, Framingham, Woburn and more in Boston, there is no risk that Newton residents who wish to obtain and possess firearms and ammunition will face undue inconvenience if the City did enact a ban. But the Constitutionality remains still a murky question, and preparing a solid case for a ban – especially with a favorable outcome in doubt – should not be Step One.
Time is of the essence. With at least one firearms store preparing to locate here, and the prospective proprietor already preparing the documents necessary for a permit, Newton must act expeditiously to regulate gun sales within the scope of its acknowledged broad authority to regulate land use. The City Council has before it an ordinance to regulate, and it must do so immediately.
The Council seems split evenly between a ban and this proposed ordinance, echoing my own head/heart dilemma. It seems certain that common sense restrictions on gun shop siting could be effected without trampling the Second Amendment. Local regulations could limit number of gun shops in the city hours of operation, proximity to sensitive areas like schools (already applicable to pot stores ), houses of worship, another gun shop, school walking routes or other walking paths as sensitive areas. There would have to be mandatory criminal background checks for owners and employees as well as purchasers, safe store regulations including video cameras, a ban on window displays, and other meaningful constraints.
Those who want a total ban on gun shops in Newton would not be precluded from moving ahead to develop that case, but, for now, we must recognize the immediacy of the threat. We have an epidemic of gun violence. Sadly, shooter drills have become part of school routines. We need protection from the carnage, but we need to do it in a smart way to withstand any legal challenge. The City Council must move swiftly to schedule a meeting to approve an ordinance with strong and effective regulations to protect the public safety, health and welfare of all its citizens, including its law-abiding gun owners.
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