The St. Louis Park City Council has voted to ban firearm sales as a home business, overruling the city’s planning commission.

A majority of commission members had voted to oppose the change either because they believed the city should not issue a ban on firearm sales at home or due to concern about existing city rules for other home occupations. Only one planning commissioner, Jessica Kraft, supported the proposal, with other commissioners voting to recommend against its adoption or abstaining.

The council, though, voted 6-0 in favor of the proposal. In addition to prohibiting firearms sales as a home occupation, the ordinance change also would add small engine repair, currency exchange, payday loan agencies and sexually oriented businesses to the list of home occupations that are not allowed in the city. The city already strictly limits such businesses in commercial areas, said Planning and Zoning Supervisor Sean Walther.

“It’s inconsistent to then allow those uses in a residential home,” Walther said.

The change would allow retail sales from home, which were previously banned, under certain conditions, such as a lack of noise, odors, smoke or other nuisances that would affect neighbors. Such sales must involve products shipped to or from the home, with sales occurring off-site, when a customer visits by appointment only or if products are sold at garage sales.

After the initial vote May 20, a second council vote on the ordinance change is scheduled Monday, June 17.

The issue initially arose specifically about firearms sales last year, Walther said. The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus opposed an initial proposal focused only on banning firearm sales. However, no one spoke at a second public hearing before the planning commission about the broader proposed ordinance change that the council then considered.

When Councilmember Rachel Harris asked how much ability the city has to regulate home-based businesses, City Attorney Soren Mattick told council member, “I think you have a great deal of latitude in general. What you’re balancing is it’s a residential area and not a commercial area. But historically, there have been certain types of businesses that have been allowed. So, you usually look for your lower-impact ones that can go into that zoning district.”

Walther said he believed the city does have the authority to specifically regulate where firearms sales occur.

Three planning commissioners opposed the change because they did not believe that people who have sold firearms from home in the city have created any issues, Walther said. A city document indicates that the police department did not record any incidents of violence, burglary or stolen inventory at addresses associated with home-based firearms businesses in the city in the last decade.

Planning Commission Chair Carl Robertson said he believed the proposal did not address the concerns of students and would not protect them from violence, according to meeting minutes. Commissioner Lynne Carper said the ordinance would not make any difference in terms of gun ownership in the city and said federal firearms licensees are already well-regulated, according to the minutes.

The majority of commissioners who opposed moving the issue on to the council wanted to take a more comprehensive review of all the rules for home occupations, Walther said.

Federally licensed firearms dealers currently operating in St. Louis Park would be allowed to continue operating despite the ban, but they would not be allowed to expand or modify their operations, Walther said. As of the beginning of this year, five firearms dealers had federal licenses allowing them to sell guns from home in the city.

If anyone applied for a new federal license to sell firearms from home in St. Louis Park, Walther said, “It’s very easy for us at that stage to say, if this ordinance was passed, that is a prohibited use. And so they would not be granted a license by the federal government.”

Council members speak in support of the ban

The concern about gun sales in St. Louis Park came from students, who were represented in the audience at the May 20 meeting, Councilmember Thom Miller pointed out. He referenced Mayor Jake Spano’s involvement with a St. Louis Park High School walkout in March 2018 to protest gun violence and call for changes to laws.

“That’s how this whole thing came about,” Miller said.

Students had a greater concern about how leaders keep them safe, Miller added.

“This is a very small step but still an important step,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can do at this point. We’re going to continue to talk about this.”

The St. Louis Park School District has also responded to student concerns by adding security measures, he noted.

Councilmember Tim Brausen said, “It’s sad that on a statewide and federal level we’ve been so slow to address the issue of gun control and the rampant existence of guns in American society. And if we can take some small steps here within the limits of our constitutional and legal authority, I’m happy to do so.”

Despite his support of the ordinance change, Spano said he agreed with planning commissioners who said current firearms dealers in the city have not created problems.

“My concern is not about the existing folks, at least in my experience, the folks that are currently in St. Louis Park, but it’s about folks that may be coming into town,” said Spano, who said he had spoken with one licensed dealer by phone and had lunch with another dealer. He called them “very responsible people as near as I can tell” and thanked them for educating him about the processes in place.

However, he said he had read letters from students at Aquila Elementary School who discussed concerns about their security.

“When I try to imagine what has to be happening in a fifth grader’s mind when they try to articulate that in a letter about their fears of being murdered in their school, some of those concerns of folks that feel that maybe this is intruding or we’re getting out of our lane, some of that stuff goes away for me,” Spano said.

Thousands of Americans have died from gunshots since the student walkout last year, the mayor said.

“The numbers are clear,” he said. “The challenge has always been are cities and counties and other entities willing to step up and make some of those changes?”

The city has limits on its authority, but Spano referenced changes that have occurred locally in the last year. In addition to the upcoming ordinance change for home sales, the police department no longer sells retired firearms to dealers to be resold. The only retail gun store in the city, the Frontiersman, agreed to not sell assault-style rifles and bump stocks, which can essentially convert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon.

Such actions occurred, Spano said, “because a whole bunch of kids walked out of their high school and said, you know, we’ve just had damn enough. Somebody’s got to do something. And while these things aren’t huge things and they’re not going to move the needle nationally on those numbers, in our little part of the world, they’re the pieces that we can do to try and make our community safer.”

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