The Riverhad Town Board at its June 21 meeting. Photo: Alek Lewis

Gun shops and firing ranges should not be treated the same as any other type of business for zoning purposes, and the Riverhead Town Board needs to act to close the major gap in our town’s code that fails to distinguish between a gun shop and a toy shop. 

We thought that the proposed firearms code that had a public hearing last month was a step in the right direction. It’s perfectly appropriate to regulate “time, place and manner” of the operations of a firearm business — just as the town is planning to regulate adult-use cannabis dispensaries and lounges. Indeed, we think it’s ridiculous not to. 

As Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said herself, it doesn’t make sense to have a gun shop next to an ice cream store on Main Street.

That’s precisely the purpose of zoning and why we were disappointed to learn the code would not be discussed further among board members in a public forum. We don’t understand the supervisor and council members’ apparent about-face on this subject. Her comments during the July 19 Town Board meeting, in response to a resident’s question about the fate of the legislation, didn’t really shed any light. 

“We listened to the public and it’s not the right time,” Aguiar said. Evidently she didn’t listen too closely to the majority of residents who turned out to support the code proposal, or those who called for even greater zoning restrictions than proposed.

The town board should have a public discussion of the code, airing details about why they believe the proposal “went too far.”

Believe it or not, that is how the board used to operate. Members would have a public discussion of a code proposal before a public hearing is scheduled and a public board discussion of the proposal after a public hearing was held.

The public deserves to know, first and foremost, that board members understand what a proposal is about, in detail. An open public discussion fosters debate among board members about a bill. And board members should explain their rationale for supporting or opposing it. 

An intelligent and engaged discussion by our legislators, even if they fundamentally agree on the purpose of a bill, can only improve it, expose flaws or help them recognize what needs to be changed in the future.  And besides, these types of discussions are basic legislative practice and fundamental to good government.

Maybe then instead of getting nothing done, the board can get something done. Town board members seemed in agreement that they didn’t want gun shops downtown, so why don’t they start with just prohibiting the use there?

Instead, there is very little public discussion of resolutions prior to a vote – or after a public hearing. This board seems to prefer to conduct such discussions over email, one-on-one between officials in the halls of 200 Howell Avenue or in closed meetings like the code revision committee. Though board members sometimes voice their opinions during public hearings – which is in itself a breach of proper protocol –  the measure often does not land on a work session agenda for discussion after the hearing is closed, as it should. 

And when a resident dares ask about the fate of a bill that had a public hearing, they are met with a vague, sometimes hostile, response from the supervisor stating it will be brought up if a board member brings it up — which isn’t really an answer at all.

We commend Councilman Tim Hubbard for stepping up and committing to work on the code, because truthfully, questions like where a firearm business should and should not go in the town are important.

Nevertheless, the absence of substantive discussion is not how the lawmaking process should work and not how it’s worked in the past. This demonstrates dysfunction in the management of the Town Board’s agenda, one of the roles of the town supervisor as its chair.

This board can do better. Riverhead deserves better.

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