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Planning Commission to hear firearms testimony

April 27, 2012

The Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission next month will address a bang-bang issue on how firearms may be sold in Mammoth.

The issue dropped in from nowhere when a would-be firearms dealer requested information on opening a store on one of Mammoth’s main drags.

Since that person has not formally filed an application to open a business, his or her name is known only by the town’s Community Development Department.

Nevertheless, the staff kicked into high gear to examine the request, given that this type of business has never showed up in zoning codes.

In the meantime, the town has held up at least one move to the Industrial Park on Lower Meridian Blvd., in spite of an apparent previous approval.

Businessman Clayton Mendel, owner of Eastern Sierra Armory, who was to move to the Industrial Park from his home manufacturing office, was taken by surprise by the sudden holdup, so to speak.

“Apparently, even though there’s nothing in the zoning code, they had my business as being flagged for relocation approval, but due to lack of internal communication between finance and planning, they continued to issue me business tax licenses for new addresses,” he said in an email.

“When I initially started the business I did clear it with planning, and they confirmed that there are no restrictions in town for firearms related activities.  So if there are no restrictions, what is there to approve?

“There are no zoning restrictions, but now we need a ruling as to whether there should be? And if the Planning Department admits that it shouldn’t be restricted, why now is it going to the Planning Commission to seek a determination which may or may not be in accordance with the Planning Department’s recommendation?”

The reason, according to town planner Ellen Clark, is that there currently is no category for storefront firearms sales.

“The Zoning Code is silent on this specific use,” the staff said in its report to the commission.

However, the staff also saw no reason why a firearms store should be treated any differently than any other kind of store, at least by the town government.

“Due to the strict federal and state regulations already in place, as well as the Mammoth Lakes Police Department’s existing ‘Weapons Dealer License,’ the department recommends to the Planning Commission that this is a permitted use.”

Clark, in an interview, said she and other planners understand that firearms sales are a hot-button issue among some people, who may leap to the conclusion that a firearms storefront could lead to an increase in crime.

However, she said, after studying other models in other towns and cities, “there is no statistical support” for such an attitude.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s another retail product.”

What distinguishes this type of business, though, is the number of ever-changing regulations and restrictions throughout the U.S.

Under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, it is unlawful for any person to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing or dealing in firearms without obtaining a Federal Firearms License (FFL) from the U.S. Department of Justice through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Dealers must also obtain a state-issued firearms dealer license from the California Department of Justice.

Moreover, licensed firearms dealers must comply with state and federal laws related to the purchase and sale of firearms, such as background checks, waiting periods (10 days), handgun safety certificates and gun registration.

Licenses are renewed every three years and re-inspections are required if the dealer relocates.

Although the sale of firearms is not specifically listed as a permitted use in the Mammoth Lakes Municipal Code, their sale has historically occurred legally through various home-based businesses and, more recently, through Mendel’s Eastern Sierra Armory.

In each of these instances, the dealer or business owner was issued a Town of Mammoth Lakes Business Tax Certificate and a “Weapons Dealer License” from the Mammoth Lakes Police Department.

Given all of that, the community development department will recommend to the commission that “the use is similar to, and no more detrimental than, existing permitted uses in these zones.”

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