Sussex County code says guns are sporting goods.
As a result, gun sales are permitted in most commercial zones as well as many other areas of the county with a conditional use.
Sussex County Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, wants council to open a dialog on possible ways to tighten regulations. “Location is the main concern,” he said during a Nov. 19 meeting. “Some areas may not be appropriate for gun shops.”
He said a special-use exception – which is acted on by the board of adjustment – could be a better way to regulate the location of gun shops.
The discussion was brought to council chambers as a result of West Rehoboth residents' opposition to a gun shop on Hebron Road. Lawrence Lank, director of county planning and zoning, reiterated that the area is zoned commercial; a gun shop is a permitted use.
Lank said under county code, guns, ammunition and hunting supplies can be sold in any sporting goods store.
“Is there a way to isolate gun shops to get the loophole out of a sporting goods store?” Cole asked, adding that some store owners in shopping centers may object to having a gun shop near them.
Lank said there are more people selling guns in Sussex County than most people think. He said eight gun shops have opened in commercial districts over the past two years. In addition, he said, there are several residents who sell guns from catalogs on-line as a home occupation. “They can't have a display or a sales room,” Lank said.
He said they would need a conditional-use application to expand their business.
Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, said he supported more discussion on the matter but he would not support a vote coming to council table in the near future. “We have to be very careful. There is strong sentiment in this county that owning guns is a right, and government should avoid any regulations,” Phillips said.
“This is about commercial operations and not Harry Homeowner who goes out shooting his gun on New Year's Day,” Cole said.
After hearing council's comments, Lank said he will return to council to make another presentation.