The Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission on Wednesday approved firearms sales in the town’s commercial zones.
The vote was 4-1, with only Elizabeth Tenney voting no.
“I support firearms in the Industrial Zone,” she said, “but I can’t support firearms in the commercial/lodging zones.
“We decided a long time ago that this is a special place. It’s four square miles. We decided not to permit big-box stores, for example.
“This (a gun store) would change the character of our community. So based on considerable thought on this, I can’t support it in commercial zones.”
The issue dropped in from nowhere last month 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.
Even so, 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 held up at least one move to the Industrial Park on Lower Meridian Blvd., in spite of an apparent previous approval.
Businessman Clayton Mendel, a biathlete and owner of Eastern Sierra Armory, who was to move to the Industrial Park from his home manufacturing office, was taken by surprise. He, along with others, appeared at the Planning Commission meeting Wednesday to answer any questions, but received none.
The commission ultimately ended up going with a staff report that suggested there was 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.”
Mammoth resident Wilma Wheeler, speaking from the floor, said she understood that there probably was no legal reason why a firearms dealer should not have a storefront business, but she still argued against approving the measure.
“I object to seeing a firearms dealer in our community,” she said. “I don’t think it goes with our, or at least my, vision of Mammoth as a place for recreation and for people to enjoy the peace and serenity of this area.
“I don’t have a legal reason to object, but I object because I think it might change our community quite a bit. We know there are some people, who unfortunately, don’t use firearms in a good manner, like that tourist shooting a bear.
“There are so many incidents we hear of today where people with guns take the law into their own hands, shoot first and ask questions later. But you can’t depend on everyone to be a responsible manner.”
Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw countered, saying there is “no connection” between gun use in Mammoth, or anywhere else, and its point of sale. He reminded the commission that there are informal shooting areas in the surrounding forest and high deserts.
In the staff report, the difference between a firearms dealership and, say, a flower store, is that firearms dealers are required to pass through rigorous federal, state and local regulations.
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.
Also, 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 recommended to the commission “the use is similar to, and no more detrimental than, existing permitted uses in these zones.”