Insular thinking in Boston’s suburbs

Banning gun store in Newton more self-serving than transformative

AFTER AN EFFICIENT campaign by gun control proponents, the Newton City Council recently approved zoning changes to keep gun stores out of Newton. Yard signs that dotted lawns across the city have come down, Facebook posts have dwindled, and parents are resting easier knowing that their children won’t walk by a gun shop en route to school.

At issue was a gun dealer who wanted to open a store on Washington Street in Newtonville, a family-friendly site that is less than a mile from five schools, including Newton North High School.

I’ve never held a firearm, nor have I ever wanted to. My children are grown, but as a young mom I wouldn’t have knowingly allowed them to play at the houses of gunowners. I’m a proponent of gun control who agrees with my neighbors and all 24 of Newton’s city councilors that we should keep a gun store out of the city. Yet, I’m left wondering if we accomplished anything other than making ourselves feel better.

I applaud the effort that stopped the store: A group of moms established a “Stop Gun Stores in Newton” campaign, a Go Fund Me page quickly raised more than $6,000 for yard signs, and residents flooded City Council inboxes with emails. More than 10,000 people, myself included, signed a petition that read, “Having a gun store in Newton would undermine our reputation as a welcoming and progressive city.”

Yet, if the same business owner tried to open a shop on Main Street in Watertown, just two miles away, most Newton residents probably wouldn’t have even taken notice. Stores already operate in Natick and Waltham.

I fear that banning stores in a suburb will prove more self-serving than transformative. Disallowing gun stores in Newton is a narrow solution to a massive problem if business owners instead choose to locate one town over.

In Newton, where the annual median household income tops $150,000, we’re well-versed in mounting Facebook, Go-Fund-Me, and letter-to-the-editor campaigns. Our neighborhoods house attorneys from prominent law firms that have offered to defend the city pro bono in case of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of prohibiting a gun store.

Most of us are not earning minimum wage salaries. We can volunteer for worthy causes because we don’t need multiple jobs to put together a living wage. More than 500 people attended a public hearing on Zoom because they had the time and technology to do so.

We live in a city where we know government officials are likely to listen and respond to our concerns. We expect our voices to matter because of where we live, how we look, and how much money we make. Politicians listen to us because we have the time and resources to get and keep their attention.

I, too, support tighter gun regulations, but I worry we’ve become so insular that we don’t understand why some people might feel a need to buy a firearm.  It’s easy to disparage gun ownership when we don’t feel the need to protect ourselves, when we can count on someone else to wield a weapon for us.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Danielle King, a health policy fellow for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, wrote about her decision to buy a revolver, despite her discomfort. When police finally responded to her call about a violent intruder ransacking her house, 45 minutes after she’d dialed 911, her Black husband was greeted by a police officer “brandishing his loaded Glock,” while the white intruder claimed ownership of the house he’d vandalized. Police eventually figured it out but we’ve all read enough news accounts to know this situation could have ended much differently – not for white non-gun owning Newton homeowners, but for Black residents across the country.

It’s not enough to prohibit gun stores in Newton. Doing so will neither keep guns out of the city nor prevent them from getting into the wrong hands. Anyone who signed the petition should support the Stop Gun Stores group as it expands its mission to advocate for gun violence prevention in surrounding communities.

If Newton residents want to lower the rate of gun violence in the country, we need to harness our privilege to help more vulnerable communities feel safer.

Meet the Author

Gail Spector

Author and journalist , Resident of Newton
Otherwise we’re just putting borders around our entitlement.

Gail Spector, author of “Legendary Locals of Newton,” is a journalist who covered Newton for 20 years.