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On June 2, at 6 p.m. an application from Niosi Firearms LLC will come before the Town of Riverhead Planning Board for a vote. 

Initially I was ambivalent as I began reading the news reports last month about this proposed firearms sales and indoor shooting range business wanting to locate on Elton Street. I’ve been qualified as a marksman, and have been through the rigorous Suffolk County pistol permit process. In the past I’ve also been interviewed as a character reference for a neighbor applying for a county pistol owner permit. 

Then I took the time to watch the entire video of the April 21 presentation to the planning board. Anyone with internet access can do this at their leisure. The board seemed both inquisitive and starstruck during the presentation.

Yay,  someone wants to fix up a long vacant building. We all like that idea, right? Improves the neighborhood, right? Helps property values, right? Actually, there’s data that indicates firearms businesses drive down nearby property values.

The head of the board seemed interested in the possibility of being able to shop for a hand gun. Another board member, a former town councilman, opined that there haven’t been any complaints about another gun dealer in town near the post office, since it opened a few years ago. Goody, seeing as how, since 1970, there have been 30 reported gunfire incidents (many of which were mass shootings) at postal facilities nationwide. Luckily 11901 isn’t on that list at this time.

As I continued to watch the question-and-answer session, Planner Greg Bergman stated the shooting range is a permitted use for the location under town code 211-1. That sent me searching the town code. 211-1 is a list of definitions for words in chapter 211, and is ONLY applicable to 211. Further, 211 has nothing to do with zoning and permitted use(s). Maybe he mentioned the wrong chapter from memory so I kept reading, and found Chapter 301 Article XV Section 79, which is rules for the CRC zone where the property is located. By golly, an indoor recreation facility is a permitted use. Well, what is a recreation facility according to this part of our town code? Section 301-3 (B) states it is a place designed to provide for recreational activities including but is not limited to fishing, golf, tennis, and “similar activities.” Is an indoor shooting range “similar” to any of these? Beats me. 

This is an application that the planning board should refuse to rule on, and remand the applicant to the Zoning Board of Appeals to first judge. In the meantime, the Planning Board should specifically deny the firearms sales portion of the application as that is NOT a permitted use in the zone. The code clearly does not allow retail sales in 301-79 (A). (Uses).

While on the topic of zoning, guns, and Riverhead, I have a separate ask of the Riverhead Town Board. You told the combined civic associations a month ago none of you would support their request for a total building moratorium while our town’s master plan is being reviewed or undergoing revisions. You wanted specific items to thumbs up or down for a moratorium. Here is a specific moratorium: weapons sales and use places. Do the hard work of defining it, and listing where, when, and how, if at all, such businesses should be allowed in our town. Thirty other villages, towns, and cities across New York State already have codified this.

We have one other gun dealer already stating he has everything but final inspections, and is preparing to open up shop steps from Grangebel Park. Did you know that is currently a permitted use in DC-1 the downtown area that you’ve championed spending $10 million for revitalization projects to among other things attract families to the area.

Our laws here already regulate time, place, and manner (love that phrase…thank you NY recreational cannabis law) of alcoholic beverage sales, recreational cannabis sales, adult item sales, graffiti instrument sales, hazardous substance production and storage, but gun shops and shooting ranges seem to have eluded scrutiny. It’s past time to take a look Riverhead.

In conclusion, on the heels of the date to consider the gun shop/shooting range application is National Wear Orange Weekend June 3-5. Last year more than 1,000 partner organizations, influencers, corporate brands, elected officials, and landmarks joined hundreds of thousands of Americans to unite around a call to end gun violence from which 100 people in the U.S. die daily. What better time for Riverhead to take a stand?

Mitchell Hagler lives in Riverhead.

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