Westminster’s Mayor and Common Council unanimously adopted an ordinance that would allow the sale of firearms as a special exception in part of the city’s downtown business zone.
Geared Up Firearms Training and Accessories Inc., located on North Court Street, in 2018 approached Councilman Tony Chiavacci, explaining they wanted to expand their business to include the sale of firearms. Chiavacci then brought an ordinance to the lawmaking body, which introduced it in December.
After much public input — with proponents testifying Geared Up is a model in gun safety protocol and opponents questioning the safety of a downtown gun shop and arguing it would negatively affect ambiance — lawmakers were able to find compromise, amending the bill to exclude the Main Street area and adding municipal provisions to already strict Maryland gun regulations.
“I’ve really wrestled with this issue since Mr. Chiavacci brought it to my attention a couple weeks ago,” Councilman Gregory Pecoraro told his colleagues at the Jan. 14 Mayor and Council Meeting. “I’m deeply concerned about the over-availability, I believe, of guns in our society in general and I’m a strong proponent of gun control.
“I think Maryland has very good gun control laws and that’s one of the reasons I’m going along with this.”
At the request of Mayor Joe Dominick, council members voted to amend the legislation to prohibit the sale of firearms in any area that abuts Main Street.
Lawmakers also saw through the recommendation of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, which in December suggested the city’s highest elected body adopt the ordinance but include provisions outlining what types of business could apply for a special exception to sell firearms.
As adopted, the ordinance says that only businesses whose principal purpose is firearms training or sales are eligible to apply for a special exception. “So that a candy store or dry cleaner can not [apply],” Council President Robert Wack said.
A business would apply for a special exception, go before the Board of Zoning Appeals at a public hearing and secure the board’s approval.
The legislation includes a variety of provisions specific to the sale of firearms. For a facility to be approved it must have an advanced alarm system; a station to load and unload firearms; industry-standard video surveillance system; beefed-up doors, gates, glass and commercial-grade locks; any walls backing up to other buildings must be made of bullet-resistant material; and the building must have a loading and unloading station “comprised of heavy steel enclosures.”
Even Geared Up, the inspiration for Ordinance 903, will have to apply for the special exception, go before the board and receive its blessing before it can start selling firearms from the shop on North Court Street. The firearms training business has a Federal Firearms License and already sells guns from owners Donna and John Dressel’s home — which is not located in Westminster.
Because special exceptions are granted to properties, the council voted to add a provision to the ordinance that would revoke the special exception six months after a firearms business closed.
A business that secures a special exception to sell firearms in the Downtown Business district could eventually be sold into different ownership. But if the business closes and remains dormant for six months, the special exception would be revoked, council members explained.
In another amendment, council shifted the duty of inspecting any downtown gun sales facilities from the planning department to the Westminster Police Department.
“I do believe that we should have some responsibility to ensure that the safety measures are not only in place when they open but are continually in place as time moves on,” Chiavacci said. “I personally would like to take it away from planning and zoning and make that a responsibility of the police department. I think they are qualified to do it.
“It gives them a relationship with that entity, which I think is important.”
Outgoing Westminster Police Chief Jeffrey Spaulding, who recently announced he will retire in March, said the city’s police department should easily be able to take on the responsibility.
Checking for safety measures outlined in the ordinance is “pretty simple,” Spaulding said. “You just walk in the door, they’re either there or they’re not.”
Chiavacci concluded that the lawmakers efforts in finding compromise on what could’ve become a contentious issue shows their commitment to the city.
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“I’m grateful that we have a collegial group that are pretty vastly diverse in our political views on all kinds of things,” Chiavacci said. “But in general on the years I’ve been on this council most of those things have been put aside for the greater good of the community. I think that’s a good example here tonight.”