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Author Topic: Gunshop Operator Takes Town to Court Over Zoning Decision  (Read 1187 times)
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« on: May 01, 2011, 07:27:14 AM »

From the Londonderry Times

Gunshop Operator Takes Town to Court Over Zoning Decision
Chris Ceasar
Londonderry Times

Lee's Gun Shop operator Robert Lee and the property owner, Kathryn Lee, have filed a lawsuit with the Rockingham Superior Court to overturn a decision by town officials that effectively shut down a home gun sales business Robert Lee had operated out of his home on Isabella Drive earlier this year.

The suit was filed April 14 against the Town of Londonderry.

Lee, who said he has licenses from both the town and federal government to sell guns, was originally granted a conditional use permit by the town zoning board of adjustment to run a home-based gunsmith business on his property, with a few conditions - no shooting of guns on the property and installing a working alarm system on the property.

Additionally, the permit prohibited the sale of receivers - the mechanical body of a gun - outside of their use in the repair of a gun.

The intention of that restriction, according to the minutes of the meeting, is that the zoning board was trying to prevent Lee from selling guns on the premises.

However, the legally-binding language of the permit that restricts the nature of Lee's business, according to Lee and his lawyer, is more ambiguous. Lee argues that, technically, he didn't sell receivers out of his home - instead, he sold fully constructed firearms.

Members of the zoning board of adjustment didn't see the distinction, and revoked his conditional use permit after a burglary at the store publicized the gun sales on his property.

The long-time resident said he picked up the practice after a customer said he couldn't pay Lee for a gun repair, and offered to let Lee sell the gun to recoup his losses.

"I looked at my paperwork and there's nothing on there that says I couldn't sell firearms," he said, explaining he had not originally intended to sell weapons on the property, nor did he plan to mislead town officials about the nature of his business.

As the business grew, Lee said he continued to sell the weapons. The website for "Lee's Gun Shop" makes no mention of any gunsmith services.

"My (initial) intent wasn't that was I was going to sell, but...once again, I had somebody come to me a couple months later and said, 'can you get me a gun,'"  Lee said. "I pulled out my paperwork and it said nothing about the sale of firearms.

"I wasn't trying to pull the wool over somebody's eyes," he emphasized. "When it came to 'what do I do (in this situation),' there was nothing in my paperwork that said I couldn't (sell guns)."

His attorney, E.F. Nappen of Concord, who specializes in Second Amendment cases, said after his client's hearing that state law prohibits any political subdivision - such as the Town of Londonderry - from regulating the sale of firearms.

RSA 159:26 establishes the state government's role as the authority for firearms regulations in New Hampshire, and notes that "no ordinance or regulation of a political subdivision may regulate the sale, purchase, ownership, use, possession,  transportation, licensing, permitting, taxation or other matter pertaining to firearms, firearm components, ammunition or firearm supplies in the state."

However, the bill also notes that "nothing in this section shall be construed as affecting a political subdivision's right to adopt zoning ordinances for the purposes of regulating firearms businesses in the same manner as other businesses."

"They did not (treat it in the same manner as other businesses), they denied because it's firearms," Nappen commented via email. "If he was selling Teddy bears, they would not have denied him. That's why the town is in trouble."

Londonderry Building Inspector Richard Canuel, who is the staff point person for zoning decisions, said he could not comment on the case until he was served with papers from the court.

Since the decision, Lee has opened two other stores, in Hudson and Wilton. Noting that he rejects the town's authority to shut him down, he still runs the business out of his home in Londonderry, though only by appointment.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'll let a court of law tell me," he said.

"We both know the town is going to be paying (legal fees)," he added, nothing his lawyer was working mostly pro bono. "(Nappen) is doing this because he doesn't like municipalities taking Second Amendment rights away from people....I'm not happy (about the cost) because I'm a (Londonderry) taxpayer."

The suit seeks attorney fees, costs for the prosecution and "other relief as may be just and appropriate."

A court hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 22, at the Rockingham Superior Court in Brentwood.

Glenn Douglas
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