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Editorial: A more prudent way to complete gun sales downtown

If any residents feel at all uneasy about the Westminster Board of Zoning Appeals’ vote this week to approve a special exception allowing a downtown business to sell firearms, consider that guns were already being sold — and in a more problematic manner.

Geared Up Firearm Training Courses and Accessories Inc., which has been at 19 N. Court St. since 2016, will now be able to sell firearms on its premises. That had previously been disallowed by the store’s location in the city’s Downtown Business zoning district. But the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an exception for Geared Up under a new ordinance. Owner Donna Dressel testified before the board that Geared Up has the proper licensing from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Maryland State Police to conduct background checks and make firearms sales. While their business has been primarily focused on training, they also have had firearms for sale.

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In the past, because of the downtown zoning restriction, Dressel testified, the final transaction and delivery of a firearm to a customer has had to be conducted in a different zoning area. “I can meet them at 7-Eleven, I can meet them in the alley, because we are no longer in downtown business,” she said, noting customers have even come to her home as a last resort. “But I can’t let them walk out with the firearm they wanted to purchase unless I make other arrangements.”

That practice seems imprudent. And potentially dangerous. Westminster Police Chief Thomas Ledwell told us those off-premise sales had not been an issue. Nevertheless, the idea of law-abiding citizens consummating gun deals in the street or at a convenience store just doesn’t seem right. And the chance of the wrong person walking up on a perfectly legal firearms transaction and taking steps to get that firearm into the wrong hands, seems a ridiculous chance to take.

The path toward downtown gun sales began when Geared Up told Councilman Tony Chiavacci 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 amended the bill to exclude the Main Street area and adding provisions. 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.”

The ordinance was approved in January, making it possible for a downtown business to apply for the exception and go before the Board of Zoning Appeals at a public hearing. Geared up became the first to do so on Tuesday.

In another amendment approved in January, council shifted the duty of inspecting downtown gun sales facilities from the planning department to the Westminster Police Department. Another commonsense decision. Former Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding said at the time checking for the safety measures outlined in the ordinance is “pretty simple. … You just walk in the door, they’re either there or they’re not.”

It does seem pretty simple. Now. And we’re glad that going forward those safety checks, like the sales themselves, will be done in a controlled environment rather than in an alley or in front of a Slurpee machine.

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