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Stafford panel reviews in-home gun transfers

Over the past four years, the number of Stafford County residents permitted to conduct some type of firearm-related activity has steadily increased, according to data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The number of Stafford residents with federal firearm licenses has risen by 69 percent from 13 licensees in May 2010 to 22 licensees in May 2014, according to an ATF list of licensees with Stafford listed as the location.

That list doesn’t distinguish whether the licensee operates out of a home or commercial space.

According to the county, however, there are 31 active federal firearm licenses in the county with residential addresses.

The nine different types of federal firearm licenses allow for a variety firearm activities ranging from the manufacture of firearms to the collection of relics.

Most of the residents seeking federal licenses and Board of Zoning Appeals approvals in recent months have sought to conduct firearm transfer services from their homes.

With firearm transfer services, residents wouldn’t sell or manufacture firearms within their homes.

Customers who have purchased firearms online from a manufacturer or distributor would come to the licensees’ home to be screened through a background check. After passing the background check, they would receive the firearm, which was shipped to the licensee in Stafford.

The service, a county memo said, is most often used when a weapon sale crosses state lines. The resident would charge a fee for the service.

Only recently have such requests come before the Stafford BZA.

Before 2014, county staff handled the requests by issuing home occupation permits, which are issued when the activity does not increase the vehicular traffic or require customer visits to the home. But after the ATF notified county staff that such activity involved people coming to the person’s home, the nature of the business changed and county staff began sending the applications before the board.

Since January 2014, five such requests have come before the board and were approved.

To grant a request, board members must agree that the activity will not change the character of the area, or be injurious to the public safety or welfare of the community, among other things. For most of the applications, the BZA has set down certain conditions such as the resident must store the firearms inside the home and must have a personal security system.

“There are lots of home businesses that folks have. I don’t think we can make any distinction on the type of business because we are bound to read the applications and they must meet those general requirements. It doesn’t matter what that person is selling,” BZA member Ernest Ackermann said. “We know that a lot of people have firearms. I don’t, and I think they should be regulated. But that is not the issue here.”

BZA member Larry Ingalls said he was somewhat surprised by the number of requests that have come in over the past five months.

“The question I always ask is, if I lived across the street … would I be able to tell that there is a business being run out of there?” Ingalls said.

At the BZA’s April 22 meeting, two residents got the stamp of approval from the BZA, one to operate a firearm transfer service and another for firearm and ammunition sales.

George Weidner, who lives on a 5-acre parcel on Barrington Woods Boulevard in the Barrington Woods subdivision, was approved for the firearm and ammunition sales. Weidner planned to bulk-buy ammunition, paraphernalia, reloading supplies and equipment from manufacturers or distributors and then sell them online or at gun shows. Some of the items he sells online will be sent directly from the distributor’s warehouse. Most of the time, he will sell or deliver the products at a site away from his home.

Two more similar requests—one for only a firearm transfer service and another for firearm transfer services, trade shows and Internet sales—sailed by the board at its last meeting on May 27.

A green light by the BZA is only one requirement that applicants must meet. In addition to meeting other ATF requirements, the applicant’s requested activity must comply with all state and local laws, including homeowner association rules.

According to the ATF, opposition from a homeowners association is usually grounds for an applicant to withdraw their application.

That was true for one Stafford resident.

Even though Danielle Gilason received approval from the BZA in April to operate a firearm transfer service from her home on Summer Breeze Lane in The Willows subdivision, opposition from her homeowners association and other residents led her to withdraw her application.

The residents raised concerns over the safety of Gilason’s proposed service.

Douglas Levy, a lawyer with Rees Broome PC, spoke as a lawyer for The Willows homeowners association on April 22.

“This is out of line with what the residents of the community would want to see going on,” Levy said at the BZA meeting.

He added that while the applicant is looking at the best-case scenario in operating their service, the board must consider the worst-case scenario, such as what will happen if someone is denied their firearm inside an applicant’s home.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975

vremmers@freelancestar.com

 

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