Planning Board approves gun shop in Westford


A screenshot of the meeting filmed by the Westford CAT

The Planning Board listens to public comments during their Feb. 6 meeting where they discuss the opening of applicant Jeffrey Steinbrecher’s gun shop opening in Westford.

Elitsa Koleva, News Editor

The opening of applicant Jeffrey Steinbrecher’s firearms shop on 259 Littleton Rd. in Westford was approved and reviewed by the Planning Board during their Feb. 6 meeting. Steinbrecher is paying the town a fee of $1,500 for the application hearing, a lower amount than the default of $3,000. Steinbrecher is currently working with the Westford Police Department (WPD) regarding the location’s security system, and plans to maintain his shop two to three days weekly, with no walk-ins and appointments only.

The application fee for the shop started off at $500 per Steinbrecher’s request, given how there were not going to be any major changes made to the property. However, the fee was raised to $1,500 due to the surge in public comment and the future costs this project will have on the WPD. 

“Overall, it’s far less than a full application that requires stormwater and all the work that the town engineering staff has to put into a [more] complicated site plan review, but I think this is still more than typical change in use,” Planning Board Chair Dylan O’Connor said.

When it comes to his shop here in Westford, Steinbrecher will house three to five guns at a time and will not sell any bullets, ammunition, 80 percent receivers, or ghost guns, which are assault weapons passing as legal guns. The tools used for assembling the guns will be small tools like mallets and allen keys, with no heavy machinery at the site, according to Steinbrecher. 

“I’ve never dealt with so-called ghost guns or 80 percent lowers. I believe that is ridiculous and a huge trouble. I can’t imagine how someone would think it would be safe to fire something that had been drilled out in someone’s kitchen,” Steinbrecher said. 

As a licensed gun seller by both the federal and state government, Steinbrecher will conduct thorough background checks on all his customers in Westford by ensuring they have a License to Carry (LTC) and no criminal past according to the Massachusetts Instant Record Check System (MIRCS) and FBI Criminal Background database, among other legal checks.

In addition to approving a security system in place, the WPD will also run yearly checks on Steinbrecher’s property and have access to all documentation from his business. Steinbrecher also plans to keep his shop as discreet as possible, with no sign outside and covered windows. 

“We’re not making any exterior changes and we’re not even going to put a sign up outside,” Steinbrecher said. “My business is appointment only and we’re barely going to have hours since I work as an attorney. I can only accept clients that can schedule my time far in advance and […] I would appreciate it if no one else knew where we were. I think that’s part of the security.”

When it comes to the zoning bylaw which allows this project to be built and limits the Planning Board’s influence on rejecting the proposal, residents are calling to change it so that it stops future gun shops from opening in town. Their main concern is that Littleton gun dealers, where Steinbrecher previously owned a shop, are going to move to Westford. Some of these gun dealers are currently under inspection for illegal sales and may potentially be evicted. There is ongoing discussion about a vote taking place at the next special town meeting in October, or as early as March.

“Currently we’ve already been asked and have been soliciting other examples from other communities and looking into what makes sense to tailor something like that to Westford. We are contemplating something for the fall town meeting,” Director of Land Management Use Jeffrey Morrissette said.

According to a Boston Globe article published in September, Steinbrecher’s previous shop by the name of “Exotic and High Performance Firearms for discerning Massachusetts Customers” promoted semiautomatic rifles on instagram, which are banned in Massachusetts. When confronted by local residents about the article, Steinbrecher stated that he sold the guns to people in other states, where semiautomatic rifles were legal.

“When we advertise to people outside of Massachusetts where these things are legal, we do use them in photographs. It’s legal for me, a person who has an FFL [Federal Firearms License] and a dealer license to have these items,” Steinbrecher said. “The problem with social media is that you are projecting to a much larger audience than a local audience.”

Although there has been pushback from a number of residents, others remain neutral about the opening of the shop and believe that the Planning Board is doing the best that they can to ensure the safety of the town. They also believe that a gun shop will not make this town any more unsafe, as there are already two gun clubs in town. 

“I appreciate the planning board’s efforts to do a fair assessment of this,” Westford resident Diana Walker Moyer said. “If this gentleman has had a reason to leave another site that is untoward […], I think that should be called into question. But I do appreciate that this should not be solely an emotional issue which I have seen hugely [at the Planning Board meeting].”

The concern over firearms in the town of Westford mostly comes from parents, who fear for the safety of their children, especially amidst the mass shootings occurring across the country. The proximity of firearms is unnerving for many, who believe the Planning Board is not taking the necessary action to prevent this project from taking place.

“When there was a recent shooting one of the mothers said ‘every child is our child’. […] I want you to think about your own children and whether you would feel safe with your children in these schools with a gun shop around the corner. I do not, personally,” Westford resident Jocelyn Bishop said.