Tierrabyte: Zoning Emerges as Contested Tool for Gun Control

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The majority of Nagel's Gun Shop consists of hunting styled rifles and shotguns along with a large selection of knives.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Hunting rifles and shotguns are displayed at Nagel's Gun Shop.

City Council's Public Safety Committee voted Tuesday to explore several ways to reduce instances of gun violence in San Antonio, including the creation of a zoning category that would restrict firearms sales to a designated district.

Retailers selling guns, assault rifles, or other firearms must be located in districts zoned Commercial 1-3 (C1-C3), Downtown (D), and Neighborhood Commercial (NC), according to the City's current zoning laws. Firearms sales are not listed as an example of a "permitted use," as alcohol sales are, in the City of San Antonio's Unified Development Code.

It's not clear whether using zoning as a tool for the regulation of firearms sales would be effective in reducing gun violence in San Antonio. A map created by the Rivard Report shows both that incidents of gun violence are widespread in the city, and that such incidents often track to commercial corridors. The map uses gun violence incident data from the Gun Violence Archive, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization providing independent research on gun violence.

The purple parcels highlighted in the map have a zoning designation compatible with the sales of firearms, according to the City of San Antonio's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) website, and confirmed by the Development Services Department.

While existing firearms dealers would not likely be impacted by the regulation, if the city were to create a new zoning category for firearms sales, locations where retailers could open new gun stores could be significantly reduced.

C.J. Grisham, founder and president of Open Carry Texas, a nonprofit focused on gun rights advocacy based in Temple, Texas, said zoning districts were a blunt tool used to restrict law-abiding citizens from purchasing arms.

"This is how the anti-gun folks are trying to completely dismantle our gun rights," he said.

Zoning regulations have been used in a handful of cities in the United States as a method of reducing gun violence. In 1997 the city of Lafayette, California, enacted an ordinance that limited firearms dealers to commercial zones and prohibited dealers from locating near schools.

The constitutionality of such "gun-free zones" has been repeatedly challenged in the courts. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge by the Second Amendment Foundation to an Alameda County ordinance prohibiting new gun stores from being located within 500 feet of a residential zone.

For now, geographically restricting the sales of guns, Councilman Cruz Shaw (D2) said, may be out of City Council's reach.

“The city’s hands are tied," said Shaw, a member of the Public Safety Committee.

Click here to download the data behind this story.

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