WESTFORD — A proposed zoning bylaw — which would regulate new firearms dealerships in Westford — is up for consideration by the Select Board.
The proposed bylaw, which would regulate future firearms businesses that could open in town, would not impact businesses that have already received preliminary approval, such as a future shop at 359 Littleton Rd.
The draft bylaw could limit new businesses within 500 feet of schools, child care centers, religious institutions or existing firearms businesses.
The draft bylaw would not impact sportsmen’s clubs, such as the Westford Sportsmen’s Club or Stony Brook Fish and Game Association.
Under the draft bylaw, new firearms businesses would be allowed under a special permit in the Commercial Highway and Industrial Highway districts, which both fall along the Littleton Road corridor.
The proposal could limit the number of firearms businesses within Westford at one given time. Currently, the draft bylaw would allow five registered firearms businesses within the town, up from three in the original draft proposal.
The town could not impose a moratorium on new firearm businesses during discussions on the proposed bylaw and before consideration at Town Meeting, according to town counsel.
Proponents cite safety concerns surrounding future gun shops
Proponents of the proposed bylaw cite safety issues as a priority in supporting the proposal.
“I’m not anti-gun or anything like that. I’m not against the Second Amendment. We just want to make sure this is going to be safe,” Bridget McDonald, a resident in favor of the proposed bylaw, told WestfordCAT. “There are other shops around here. We don’t need to open them here.”
She continued, “I’m a gun violence survivor, so I do have a strong feeling about it.”
Resident and military veteran MJ McKeown echoed safety concerns surrounding additional firearms dealerships in town.
“As we are military, my husband and I are not gun owners but we wanted to find a community that was safe where we know we wouldn’t have an issue with guns as we would in the South or Midwest,” McKeown told WestfordCAT.
She notes she is not anti-gun, however, she hopes the proposal will limit future firearms businesses that could open within Westford.
“Guns are legal in Massachusetts, and we can’t stop that. But what we can try to do is diminish the number of gun shops that can be around Westford to where people get ahold of them easier.”
According to data from the Firearms Records Bureau, Westford hosts 1,805 licenses to carry as of Jan. 1, 2023. Five residents are licensed to possess a machine gun.
“We can’t stop gun shops, but we can try to limit them,” she said.
Sportsmen question legality, need for proposed bylaw
Al Prescott, president of the Westford Sportsmen’s Club and a former member of the Town and School Safety Task Force, believes the proposal is “too restrictive and unnecessary.”
“The concept of capping something that has constitutional protection is unheard of,” he told WestfordCAT. “If it’s a lawful business, then I don’t understand why they can’t just be allowed to exist where it could meet current zoning requirements.”
Other cities and towns, such as Newton and Littleton, limit where gun shops can operate through similar location restrictions. These bylaws do not place a cap on the number of permits issued for new firearms businesses, however.
Prescott notes that he believes the proposed bylaw, if adopted at a future Town Meeting, would do little to town safety.
“There’s an awful lot of firearms in Westford, but the Town of Westford is a relatively safe town. I don’t see a need for it whatsoever,” he said.
He continued, “there are a lot of ways to bolster public safety, but this bylaw doesn’t do it. It benefits nobody. We’re focusing on an object and not the people. If someone is a criminal, we need to talk about crime, if someone is ill we need to help them”
According to a March 13 report from SafeWise, Westford ranked as the sixth safest town in Massachusetts and the 21st safest town in the United States. Safewise, which tracks national crime and safety trends, found that Westford’s property crime and violent crime rates remained low.
He believes discussions on the proposed bylaw, which began in February, have been “rushed” and is concerned that potential legal challenges could cost the town in the future.
“I don’t understand, when there’s some supposed outrage, why we don’t get a group of people together and talk. Why don’t we find a forum where we can get these folks together and properly moderate,” he said.
He continued, “It’s unconstitutional. If anybody ever challenges it, Littleton and Westford will pay millions of dollars in civil rights damages.”
Next steps for draft bylaw
The Select Board may vote to endorse the draft bylaw during their April 11 meeting, which would send the draft back to the Planning Board for consideration ahead of a public hearing. The Select Board will not allow public comment on the draft bylaw during their meeting.
According to town counsel, a public hearing notice could be published as soon as April 14 for a public hearing during the May 1 Planning Board meeting. However, town counsel believes a May 15 public hearing date would allow “reasonable time” for staff to work with town counsel on a draft notice.
A date for a public hearing has not been published at the time of reporting. If a public hearing opens up in May, the proposal could be considered during Special Town Meeting in October.
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