WESTFORD — A public hearing has officially opened regarding a proposed zoning bylaw amendment that could regulate future firearms businesses in town.
Brief overview of the drafted proposal
The proposal is co-sponsored by the Planning Board and Select Board and aims to limit firearms business to commercial highway and industrial highway zoning districts and limit the number of special permits that can be granted to businesses in town.
Under the current draft proposal, four special permits can be granted to potential firearms businesses.
Additional special permits may be granted if a shop fulfills a specific need that has not been met by an existing business. These needs include:
- Purchase and sale of firearms.
- Purchase and sale of firearms accessories.
- Purchase and sale of ammunition.
- Firing range.
“In the event that the limit of four special permits is reached, the SPGA may waive this limitation upon a finding by supermajority vote that the proposed Firearm Business would provide service as a Firearm Dealer, Firing Range, or Gunsmith where such service is not yet being provided by any of the then-existing Firearms Businesses in Town,” the bylaw reads.
This limit does not apply to sportsmen’s clubs in town, such as the Westford Sportsmen’s Club or Stony Brook Fish and Game Association.
Under the draft bylaw, no special permit may be granted to a firearm business located within 500 feet of schools, child care centers, public parks, religious institutions, or existing firearms businesses.
“This is making it more restrictive, not less restrictive for someone to open a firearm business in Westford,” Planning Board Chair Dylan O’Connor said during the hearing.
He added, “since the town had zoning bylaws, since 1955, if somebody came before the Board…there would be no special permit, it would be site plan only, and you could have fifteen of them [firearm businesses] today. So what we’re doing is we’re actually putting limits in place that have not existed.”
Attendees voice support of amendment
A number of residents in attendance spoke out in favor of the proposal during the June 5 public hearing.
Resident Jody Marchand, a proponent of the bylaw, says she is “in shock that our town known for the school system [and] Kimball Farm will now be known as the town with the gun shops.”
She added, “it’s very upsetting to me.”
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wonder database, firearms account for nearly 19% of deaths for children ages 0 to 18 in the United States.
A number of residents also referenced a recent bylaw amendment in Acton which passed during a May 1 Annual Town Meeting. This bylaw would allow just two firearms businesses in Acton at any given time.
“I don’t know why we need to have a total of five firearm stores,” resident Barry Rosenberg said. “I think it’s overkill.”
Some, like resident Gloria Miller, cited concerns over the town having “more options to purchase a gun than a bra.”
“Generally speaking, half the population of Westford is female. The vast majority of those women probably wear a bra on a daily basis. The number of places I can purchase a bra in town is probably one,” she said.
Miller also believes that the town has “a history of limiting commercial development,” referencing limits on drive-through restaurants and a ban on nonmedical cannabis retailers.
“The community is voicing their opinion that they are not comfortable with this business,” she said.
Some feel proposal is too restrictive
However, others felt setting a limit on the amount of firearm businesses would be too restrictive.
“We’ve never had a restriction before and we don’t have many firearms businesses. Just because you’re allowing for four or five doesn’t mean there are going to be four or five businesses,” resident and First Middlesex Republican State Committeewoman Kathy Lynch said.
She added, “there are lots of people who aren’t here tonight that believe that this is too restrictive, that there shouldn’t be a number on this, that the business and the market should determine that.”
Resident Arnold Price also added that “there’s not a whole lot” of licensed firearm dealers in Massachusetts, citing data from the Firearms Records Bureau.
According to data from the Firearms Records Bureau, nearly 65% of communities in Massachusetts have no active gunsmithing business, approximately 55% of communities have no firearms dealers and approximately 41% of communities have no businesses with a license to sell ammunition.
The public hearing will continue during the July 17 Planning Board meeting. The proposal will be considered at a Westford Special Town Meeting no later than October 16.
Residents who are unable to attend in-person may submit written comments via email to email@example.com.