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Gun control groups, gun store owner square off in zoning debate

Lawyers for the owner of a gun range seeking permission to sell guns made obscure arguments, with big ramifications.
Yuri Zalzman, owner of The Gun Range, speaks at a zoning hearing over his move to begDan Kelley

Lawyers for the owner of a Philadelphia gun range saida quirk in the city's zoning code should allow them to sell guns— an argument that has drawn the ire of gun control groups that packed a zoning hearing Wednesday over the range's plans.

"There's a lot of emotion involved," said Christopher Garber, a firearms instructor who came out in support of the gun store. "You have people who have seen children killed. But guns don't kill people. Personal responsibility has to come into play."

The seemingly obscure debate comes at a time when gun rights groups and cities across the state are locked in a battle over the degree to which municipalities can regulate guns, and gun control groups see a potential impact across the state.

"This is an attempt to undo zoning laws," said Shira Goodman, of CeaseFire PA.

In July, a state court overturned a law that would have forced cities and towns to pay the legal fees of gun rights advocates who sued to overturn gun laws such as those that require firearms owners to report lost or stolen weapons. That decision is under appeal.

The Gun Range, a gun range near 11th and Spring Garden streets, applied through the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections to begin selling firearms. That application was denied, setting the stage for Wednesday's hearing.

Lawyers for the business argued that the city's zoning code doesn't actually contain a definition of a firing range. But the code defines a gun shop as any place that sells or lends firearms, or sells ammunition.

The Gun Range sells ammo, and they rent guns to people who want to shoot. Therefore, lawyers argue, they are already a gun store, and the city was wrong deny their application for a gun store.

Owner Yuri Zalzmanhas owned the range for three years, and he says it was always his plan to begin selling guns. But the history of the business has raised the hackles of gun control groups.

For years, the gun control group Heeding God's Call had protested outside of Colosimo's, a gun store on the 900 block of Spring Garden Street that the Brady Campaign called one of the worst gun dealers in the country. In 2009, the U.S. Attorneys Office alleged in court documents that the store knowingly sold guns to people who would turn around and sell them on the street.

The store shut down, but Zalzman rents the firing range from the store's former owners.

Gun control groups are working hard to prevent the range to being selling guns. They argue that the a gun store can't operate in that location because there is aBuddhist Temple and Baptist churchnearby.

They say gun stores are only permitted in certain industrial areas, and that new construction has made that neighborhood increasingly residential.

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