HomeCity Government NewsBurbank Council Approves Landmark Gun Store Ordinance

Burbank Council Approves Landmark Gun Store Ordinance

A debate that started after a deadly mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, made its way to the streets of Burbank in 2022 after a gun store was raffling off its wares in celebration of its grand opening.

Some were outraged, and since then, advocates on both sides of the issue have debated the merits of the high number of gun stores in Burbank, a battle that has spanned almost two years.

At its last meeting, the Burbank City Council brought the debate to a close. The body approved an ordinance that establishes “buffer zones” between the city’s 14 gun stores and sensitive sites such as schools or religious centers.

 “[The ordinance] is intended to encourage thoughtful future development of firearm retailers and protect the sustainability and neighborhood character of existing commercial corridors,” associate planner Xjvirr Thomas said.

Until the Tuesday decision, gun stores were approved by-right, a quick entitlement process that allowed most of Burbank’s gun stores to concentrate in commercial areas such as Magnolia Boulevard and Burbank Boulevard.

As a result, a relatively high number of firearms retailers have set up shop in high-traffic areas, sometimes quite close to schools, homes or religious centers.

That was the primary contention of a group of gun violence protesters, who in 2022 staged protests outside the grand opening of Gun World, a large firearms retailer on Magnolia. 

Burbank’s concentration of gun stores exceeds those of neighboring cities by just about every metric.

Burbank has 14 licensed firearms dealers, according to a city staff report submitted to the council, which notes that the number has remained fairly consistent over the past five years. Four of the locations have been in business for more than 27 years, the report added, and nine are located on Magnolia Boulevard or Burbank Boulevard.

By the city’s counts, Burbank has about 13 gun dealers per 100,000 residents, while Glendale has 4.1, Pasadena has 2.9 and Los Angeles has 0.97. In terms of city geography, Burbank has 0.81 gun dealers per square mile of land, while Glendale has 0.26, Pasadena has 0.17 and Los Angeles has 0.08.

In response to the public outcry, the City Council placed a temporary moratorium on new or replacement gun stores on June 26, 2022, for the purpose of allowing time to develop an ordinance establishing buffer zones that would prohibit gun stores from doing business near sensitive sites. After a few extensions, that moratorium will sunset July 26.

At the time, the panel also discussed suspending the issuance of new licenses, thereby limiting the number of firearms retailers in the city over time.

Since initial discussions, the council has approved some regulations on gun sellers who want to obtain a license to sell firearms, adding additional hurdles including police inspections, application fees and on-site security requirements.

The recent change essentially restricts the establishment of new gun stores within 1,000 feet of sensitive sites such as schools, residential areas, places of worship and 500 feet from other firearms retailers.

That leaves 189 of the city’s 28,942 available parcels that can still be used by interested gun retailers in the future.

The distance requirements that the council chose were the strictest of the three options posed by city staff.

“At the end of the day, our community does not want another gun store in Burbank. We do not want to be the gun store capital of the country,” Vice Mayor Nikki Perez said as she endorsed the stricter option.

The new distance requirements still allow for multiple open sites in which new firearms and ammunition retailers could be established, Thomas said.

Gun store owners and gun advocates spoke out at the meeting, largely criticizing the new rules.

“Nothing has changed in our favor. Not one item in any of the proposed regulations so far,” said gun store owner Burt Toffer. “If we make a mistake, we’d have a permit revoked that we could never get back again.”

Toffer expressed concern that the new regulations would be overwhelming, adding that, in his 20 years of selling firearms in Burbank, his business has not allowed any theft of firearms and has never sold a firearm without a “due background check.”

“We do everything we can already,” Toffer said. “If you’re going to vote and put all of this on our heads, please look into maybe just a little bit of help for us to comply with these rules.”

He also contended that the city’s zoning map doesn’t take into consideration gun stores that would set up on the edge of city limits near sensitive sites outside city lines, those that would fall just outside of the edge of the map.

That was the primary argument from the gun lobby, that the city needed to rework its zone text amendment.

Others outright discouraged the council, saying the city had no basis for going after gun stores.

“There is zero evidence of any sort of harm or threat that exists by having a gun store in an area,” Burbank resident David Donahue said during the meeting.

On the other side of the debate, local activist Linda Bessin spoke up at the meeting. Bessin belongs to a local group of gun control advocates credited as the inspiration that led to a “common-sense” gun law written by state Sen. Anthony Portantino and signed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Bessin contested claims by gun rights advocates that the regulations would impose an undue burden on gun store owners.

“The zoning changes regarding gun stores being presented to you tonight are legal, court-tested and not unique,” Bessin said at the meeting.

“On behalf of the hundreds of residents who have made their concerns clear about the number of gun stores over the past two years … I ask you to support and approve this effort to bring change to Burbank.”

Council members responded to commenters and discussed the specifics of permit applications and a review of concerns about the proposed zoning map, ultimately opting for the strictest of three options proposed by city planners.

Essentially those options established a map that would allow for either 349, 233 or 189 available parcels on which a gun store could set up shop.

“I wouldn’t want a liquor store opening up near my kids’ elementary school, and with all due respect I wouldn’t want a gun store either,” Mayor Nick Schultz said.

Schultz said that the City Council exists in part to make strategic planning decisions, adding that he thinks the ordinance adequately balances the council’s role in doing that while respecting the business interests of existing federal firearms licensees.

“This is not a cap. It is not saying that this all the [gun stores] there will be in Burbank,” Schultz said. “It’s simply saying that, as we continue to grow and look for more opportunities for gun stores to enter the community, we simply want to control where they are.”

After some discussion, the City Council unanimously approved the ordinance with the strictest zoning map, with Councilwoman Zizette Mullins absent from the meeting.

First published in the June 1 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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