The gun shop issue: Westford can do better

This is the proposed location of the gun shop on 359 Littleton Rd.

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This is the proposed location of the gun shop on 359 Littleton Rd.

The Editors

Increased gun availability leads to more death, whether homicidal or suicidal. It’s inevitable. But this isn’t just a fun fact, or a statistic, or even just a study. This is our reality. On Feb. 13, at Michigan State University, a shooter killed three students and injured five more before turning the weapon on himself. On Jan. 23, seven people were shot and one was injured in Half Moon Bay, California. Days before, 12 people were fatally shot and nine were injured just six hours away in Monterey Park. These events may seem far away, but they’re not. Just a week ago in Andover, not even 20 miles away from Westford, a father killed his wife and sixth-grade son before shooting himself.

If it’s not already apparent, this is a problem. We’re in the middle of an epidemic of gun-related murders and suicides—an astonishing, and frankly, embarrassing, number of people have died because of gun violence in 2023 alone—more than 5,200.

And yet we are told that when the time comes, Westford will be home to its own firearms shop. The request was approved by the Westford Planning Board on their Feb. 6 meeting because there were no technical restrictions about it—there was nothing illegal about the shop. Nestled in the south of Westford on Littleton Road, near the 99 Restaurant, the shop will sell custom-made firearms, usually pieces that people can display, yet also use. With the prospective building hidden behind trees and and no display sign, the business’s future runner, Jeffrey Steinbrecher, aims to have a small and quaint store where you’ll only know where it is if you deliberately want to go there.

What does this mean for Westford? It means that there will be a town-approved weapons shop right down the street from Robinson Elementary School. In addition to the well-maintained and managed shooting ranges the town has, there will be a place where anyone, with the correct background checks and certification, will be able to buy a gun. The threat, the idea, of danger is now infinitely closer, both physically, and emotionally.

It’s an open secret in the Massachusetts firearms community that there was a place in Littleton called “the Mill,” where about 80 gun and weapons dealers operated from. Dwarfing the surrounding shops in Tyngsborough, Dracut, and Boxborough, it was the largest group of licensed gun sellers in the entire nation. Recently, one of the sellers was found to be involved in a crime, and the entire “Mill” is now subject to intense inspection to make sure nothing else that is illegal or dangerous is happening there.

This is only one example of a potential outcome that may happen in Westford—in fact, Steinbrecher had his own space at the Mill. After the Mill was reportedly sold and closed, many Westford residents have expressed their dismay at the idea of more gun dealers from the Mill coming to Westford to find a new place to set shop. From the potential of selling illegally built, dangerous guns, to there being an increased number of weapons in Westford and the surrounding area, there are many consequences if the plan for the store is followed through with.

Westford is a town to which families come for the schools—after all, they are among the highest-rated in the state. This means that our town is one of children. So does it make sense to put, in a place like Westford, a gun shop? As much as students in all grades and all ages are taught how an A.L.I.C.E drill works, are any of us actually prepared for a school shooting? Does the idea of a more convenient place to buy a firearm outweigh the potential heartbreaking situation that may arise due to it?

There are benefits and merits to using guns recreationally—one can build their hand-eye coordination and their stamina, and for some, shooting is a fun and rewarding activity, not to mention the practical uses of guns, such as hunting and protection. But when a gun shop opens in a suburban town, a specific message is sent: that convenience is prized over safety. That using a firearm regularly is encouraged. That buying your family member or friend a gun for their birthday is acceptable.

The kind of gun problem we have in America thrives off exactly this—well-meaning people propagating the use of firearms, but that spiraling and going wrong.

“People who report ‘firearm access’ are at twice the risk of homicide and more than three times the risk of suicide compared to those who do not own or have access to firearms,” an article by the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania says. And this is true. The more we encourage, entertain, tolerate, an issue, the more violently it will blow up in our face later. Regardless of how many safety precautions are taken, how vigorously guns at this shop are secured overnight, the only way to stop gun violence entirely and completely is to not have them at all—and when there is such a way to do so in our own community, it is necessary to follow through with.

In order to prevent future scenarios like this from happening, the town of Westford should do all that is in their power to stop it. There are talks of changing zoning bylaws in order to restrict such businesses and make them harder to set up in Westford. However, for those new bylaws to pass, Westford residents will have to vote, either in a special town meeting this spring or next town meeting in October. We can make a change. We can make Westford a safer place for everybody—children included—by taking precautions before things go wrong.