Gun store not welcome in Newton
Weapon sales are threat to city’s residents
PERHAPS THE MOST jarring part of returning to a sense of normalcy from COVID-19 has been the resurgence of daily headlines reporting the massacres of gun violence that continue to steal the lives of approximately 100 people per day and 40,000 per year, a tragically American statistic.
I’ve dedicated my young adult life so far to fighting the gun violence epidemic here in Massachusetts, working on policy solutions as the political director of March For Our Lives: Massachusetts, and as a member of the board of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. The experience I earned participating in active shooter drills and the shared paralyzing fear that my “school shooting generation” shares has brought me to this calling, and I have worked to ensure the passage of some of the most aggressive pieces of statewide gun legislation in the country to make Massachusetts a national leader.
But because incidents of gun violence in Massachusetts rarely occur in wealthier, whiter suburbs like Newton, where I live, I naively never really expected my work to bring me so directly to my own backyard. That was until Newton Firearms Inc. announced plans to open on Washington Street in Newtonville. Its desired home is a building less than half a mile from Newton North High School, less than a mile from four of our city’s elementary schools, and just a few hundred feet from the beloved Cabot’s Ice Cream, where just about every celebratory school function and family occasion in Newton is held.
My surprise was matched by the shock expressed by many Newton residents, including blindsided city councilors, who were not notified of the store’s safety permit approval. The city’s response, in line with communities like Dedham, has taken the form of amendments to our zoning ordinance to create buffer zones for gun stores throughout the city, setting distance minimums from schools, daycare centers, parks, and other community gathering places.
A study performed by researchers at WestEd, a San Francisco-based youth development non-profit, found that California cities and towns with gun stores in close proximity to schools saw higher rates of student gun possession and safety risk. In addition to general scientific consensus that firearm access is a direct risk factor for suicide in the United States, a 16-state analysis in Preventative Medicine also shows an increase in intimate partner homicides in communities where licensed gun dealers and shooting ranges are present.
There have already been more than 147 American mass shootings in 2021, and in Massachusetts we have seen resurging rates of neighborhood gun violence, increasing by over 50 percent from last year. The worst thing we can do is allow these trends to continue. All Newton residents, and especially our city’s students and young people, deserve to live and move through their city without fearing for their life. And while the impacts of this store would certainly be felt citywide, the harm will not be distributed equally. Due to increased risk of hate crimes and bigoted attacks, it will be residents of color, disabled residents, and LGBTQ+ residents who will bear a disproportionate amount of the harm that this store could cause. And with Newton being predominantly white and affluent, we are in a particular place of privilege to reject a source of danger and set an example for neighboring communities.
So let’s do just that. Let’s make clear that gun retailing is not welcome in Newton. Let’s build a city filled with green space, housing, and vibrant cultural and community spaces, not guns. In voicing support for these proposed amendments, I also encourage residents to sign petitions, testify in support of these changes, and then to join the fight outside of Newton’s borders.There are communities in Massachusetts that have been bearing the brunt of the gun violence epidemic for decades and whose advocacy often does not receive the recognition and support it deserves. Organizations like the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, Mothers for Justice and Equality, Violence in Boston, and MFOL: Massachusetts are working to curb this epidemic in an intersectional way, and they need our help. A future free from violence and fear can only be realized when we commit to working together to create safe, equitable communities.
Madeline Ranalli is a former candidate for Newton City Council from Ward 1 and a gun violence prevention advocate, serving most recently on the board of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and as the political director of March For Our Lives: Massachusetts. She is a sophomore at Harvard University.