In a vacant storefront in Newtonville, close to an ice cream shop, wine store, supermarket, and marijuana shop, a local businessman hopes to open Newton’s only gun store.
But in the days since news that Newton Firearms LLC would open its doors at 709 Washington St. became widely known, city officials and residents have banded together in full-throated opposition to the proposed store, which would be in the vicinity of many homes and several schools, including Newton North High School.
“Having a gun store in Newton would undermine our reputation as a welcoming and progressive city,” says an online petition, which as of Wednesday had more than 6,000 signatures. “More importantly, a gun store will make us all less safe.”
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, in a statement Friday, said she is “deeply concerned” about the proposed gun store. And in a rare moment of local political alignment in the city, Fuller and all 24 members of Newton’s City Council are looking to move quickly on new rules to regulate gun dealers.
On Tuesday morning, the city also issued a stop work order against the business, after inspectors found workers inside performing renovations without a permit, according to Ellen Ishkanian, a city spokeswoman.
Laura Towvim, a Newton resident and gun control activist who has helped organize the opposition to the store, said the city must take immediate steps to regulate gun sales as a safety issue.
The concerns are all the more urgent as the country has faced many deadly mass shootings this year, she said. And she worried that greater access to guns could lead to more deaths due to suicide, accidental shootings, and homicides.
“It puts people at risk in our community,” Towvim said of the proposed gun store. “The idea of putting a gun store into our town when we are at this place seems really irresponsible, especially close to schools and youth.”
The proposed store’s petitioner, Joseph Kammouj, declined to comment on the response from Fuller and city councilors, or on the zoning rules that will be considered by the City Council.
“As of right now, I have nothing to say. Everything is in the process,” Kammouj said during a brief phone interview Monday.
In response to a question about the community’s reaction to his store and the online petition opposing gun sales in Newton, Kammouj also declined comment.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you. This is just a business, like any other business,” Kammouj said.
According to Newton Firearms’ website, the business advertises itself as “safe, secure, and always professional.” The store’s services will include sales of new and used guns, ammunition, gun accessories, safety training, and repairs.
“We cater to all firearm needs whether it’s home security, hunting, personal protection, ammunition, safety training, accessories and more! Our professional staff is here to assist you 6 days a week. We offer the biggest brands in the firearms industry,” the website said.
A separate online petition “Allow Gun sales in Newton” had about 400 supporters as of Wednesday.
“Recently I’ve noticed many Newton residents have been trying to oppress others right to own and purchase a firearm,” the organizer wrote on the petition. “As Americans we should never try to suppress the rights of [others].”
The City Council, during its meeting Tuesday night, scheduled a May 10 public hearing on proposed new zoning for gun shops in Newton. A council subcommittee is also expected to discuss it Monday.
The measure would require a firearms dealer to obtain City Council approval for a special permit, establish permitting criteria, and add a provision creating a buffer zone that would separate a gun store from homes and businesses, according to city leaders.
Susan Albright, the City Council president, said city officials want to move quickly on the measure and she hoped councilors could vote as soon as May 17 on the proposed zoning. The city regulates other businesses, such as marijuana retailers and adult bookstores, and should also have rules in place for gun dealers, she said.
Albright said the city hopes to implement the zoning quickly enough to apply to Kammouj’s proposed business.
“There is terrible stuff going on in this country with respect to guns, and nobody is happy about it,” Albright said. “And we certainly don’t want to encourage the use of them here in Newton.”
The city currently does not have zoning rules that regulate firearms dealers, according to an April 16 memo from the city’s Law Department. Firearms dealers fall within the general use category of retail sales allowed by right in all of the city’s “Business Use” zoning districts.
Kammouj notified the city’s interim Police Chief, Howard Mintz, in a Jan. 27 letter that Kammouj planned to open the gun shop, according to city records.
Newton police completed a background check and inspection of the location as part of the state review process for Kammouj to become a licensed firearms dealer. The state approved that license to sell guns at 709 Washington St. Tuesday, Ishkanian said.
There are more than 300 active licensed gun dealers in Massachusetts, according to data from the state Department of Criminal Justice Information Services. In the immediate vicinity of Newton, that total includes two stores in Waltham, one in Boston, and another shop in Weston.
Since the online petition was created last Wednesday, about 1,800 people have joined “Stop Gun Stores in Newton,” a private Facebook group also created after news of the proposed Newtonville firearms dealer spread.
Opponents said they have also raised about $4,000 through a GoFundMe page intended to cover the cost of yard signs in support of the effort.
Towvim, one of the organizers of the opposition effort, said there is still much work to do, but she is glad to see city officials move quickly on gun store regulations.
“This is a local issue, but it reflects everyone’s horror and distress at what’s been going on in this country for years,” she said. “A gun store doesn’t fit in with Newton’s values.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.