Eighteen months after its controversial freeze on issuing permits for gun stores, the Burbank City Council finally received a first look at a new ordinance aimed at keeping firearms retailers from operating in close proximity to schools and other sensitive sites, such as religious institutions.
The zoning amendment would regulate where a gun store can set up shop within Burbank by limiting its proximity to sensitive sites. The ordinance will also mandate that new firearm retailers be required to seek conditional approval by the Planning Commission in addition to the City Council.
The new regulations are the result of more than a year of public discourse and activism, which picked up steam in Burbank in June 2022 after Gun World relocated its retail store just a block away from an elementary school. The Gun World opening followed a string of deadly mass shootings nationwide, including one in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 people dead, 19 of them elementary schoolchildren.
Activists pointed out that Burbank has 14 firearms dealerships — about one gun store for about every 7,500 Burbank residents — the second most of any city in the United States. Many of the 14 firearms retailers in Burbank are located near sensitive-use sites like religious centers and schools.
Hearing the concerns over Gun World’s proximity to Roosevelt Elementary School, the City Council placed a temporary moratorium on new or replacement gun stores on June 26, 2022. The moratorium was later extended through July 26, 2024.
During that meeting, the Council sought to buy time for staff to investigate the possibility of establishing buffer zones that would prohibit firearm retailers near sensitive sites. The panel also discussed suspending the issuance of new licenses, thereby limiting the number of firearms retailers in the city over time.
New land use regulations would limit the maximum number of gun stores in the city by suspending the issuance of new licenses long term, until the number of stores falls below the cap, which has yet to be determined. It would also establish local inspections regarding inventory, storage, site security and transaction procedures.
Additionally, staff is still in the process of reviewing the best way to regulate the locations of new gun stores. The city has already drafted buffer maps around sensitive uses and existing firearm retailers to identify their proximity to such uses and to one another. Additional study and community outreach will determine the final zone text amendment.
New gun stores will not be allowed to set up near “residential zones or sensitive uses,” such as religious sites, schools and open space like parks.
Existing gun stores that do not conform with the new regulations will be given 180 days to comply, though they will be exempt from the site standards, meaning many retailers will remain close to school sites until they close their doors for good.
“Like other nonconforming uses in the city, it is not the city’s intent to encourage their survival, but instead to permit their continuation as allowed by the code,” said Catherine Tang Saez, an urban planner with the city’s contracted consultant Dudek.
“There’s nothing empirical that I’ve heard that says if you went and bought some gun or some ammo at a Burbank store, you went and committed a crime. I would argue … that guns are available more freely than anything today. To regulate and penalize a legitimate business that has been in this community for decades and years is unfair to them,” said David Donahue, Burbank resident, adding that other policies on school sites could help to curb gun violence.
One resident, Andre Dionysian, pointed out that medical sites were not included in the draft ordinance’s definition of “sensitive sites.”
Staff said that they would look into including medical sites in future considerations, though City Attorney Joe McDougall added that expanding the list of sensitive sites could cause the regulation to zone out any viable site in Burbank.
“I have a healthy respect for the Second Amendment, but I pray we never have the day where those that are the policy makers are deciding how to keep our kids safe,” said Vice Mayor Nick Schultz. “This issue is not, as some in our community would say, an attack on business or an attack on the Second Amendment, this is about appropriate city planning. As a father, forgive me, but I don’t necessarily want a cannabis store, an alcohol store, a gun store next to my child’s daycare or school.”
The Council is set to decide on a final ordinance summer of next year.
First published in the December 9 print issue of the Burbank Leader.