The Bloomington City Council approved an ordinance Monday to expand the areas where gun retailers can do business while creating a buffer between dealerships and certain establishments.
The ordinance was referred to by city officials as a “balancing act” that both considered requests from residents and opened up space for gun sales.
“When we looked at adding separation standards ... we wanted to make sure that there were plentiful locations within the city for firearm retailers,” Planning Manager Glen Markegard said.
The city code will be amended to require a separation of 250 feet between a gun dealership and schools, day care facilities or residential districts. It also triples the number of zoning districts where a gun dealership can be established, from three to nine.
The additional zoning districts increase available acreage in Bloomington for gun sales from 285 to more than 450, Markegard said. But most of that space is open only to so-called incidental dealers such as sporting goods stores, where firearm sales are just a portion of their revenue.
At the same time, the ordinance reduces the area for stores where firearms and ammunition are the primary sales items.
The Mall of America is included in a district that accommodates incidental dealers.
“While the mall does not allow guns within the common area, the Mall of America with an outside separate entrance can and would be permitted to sell firearms,” Mayor Gene Winstead said at Monday’s council meeting.
Bloomington residents raised concerns in July 2015 after a gun dealership applied for a permit to sell firearms at a shopping center at W. Old Shakopee and Bloomington Ferry roads. The dealership withdrew the application, but residents continued to ask the city for better-defined dealer procedures.
The city planning division researched separation standards for other cities around the state and nation, including Minneapolis, which has requirements of up to 500 feet, and St. Paul, which requires 1,000 feet between a gun dealership and a school or residential zone.
The council vote of 6-1 came after a lengthy public hearing, which drew heated comments that often drifted from the proposed ordinance into the broader topic of gun control. Speakers represented groups demanding fewer restrictions on firearms and gun-control groups such as Moms Demand Action.
“I would prefer that the buffer zone be much larger than 250 feet,” said resident Denise Royer, who supported the ordinance. “It’s just very important that we protect our citizens.”
Resident Randy Penrod, a certified firearms instructor, said he wondered why the ordinance was needed if gun dealerships were not prevalent. “I get left with the impression that this is a solution that is looking for a problem to solve,” he said.
Bloomington has one gun dealership and a firing range that is not open to the public, Markegard said. According to city officials, two popular retailers are interested in locating in Bloomington under the new ordinance.
Roger Flint, who runs a gun cleaning and repair store in the city, was worried the new ordinance would affect his business and give the impression the city is not a safe place.
Winstead and other council members said the ordinance addresses land use and compatibility with other city spaces, not gun control.
In addition to providing for the expanded acreage and buffer zones, the ordinance establishes stricter standards for firing ranges.
“It does nothing that addresses people’s right to bear arms,” Winstead said. “It opens up areas of the community for the perfectly legal and legitimate sale of guns.”
The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus was disappointed by the City Council’s action, calling the ordinance an act of “perceived safety” on its Facebook page. Meanwhile, anti-gun violence group Protect Minnesota lauded the city’s new regulations.