Illustration by Maren Slobody
Illustration by Maren Slobody

A controversial gun-control measure drew hundreds to downtown Santa Cruz’s administrative building on Jan. 15, where a public forum resulted in the enactment of a 45-day moratorium on firearm sales in Santa Cruz County.

The most recent chapter of the national weapons regulation discussion was brought about in reaction to a new gun store applying for space in the Live Oak Shopping Center early this January. The depot’s permit application was denied without explanation, and the case was forwarded to Santa Cruz’s County Board of Supervisors.

First District Supervisor John Leopold proposed the 45-day gun moratorium formally before the public a week later on Jan. 15 with “urgent” status — requiring an 80 percent majority to pass. It passed unanimously. The legislation aimed to suspend the sale of firearms and ammunition retailers in the unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County.

“The moratorium is not about banning weapons, or taking advantage of the political moment,” Leopold said.

The aim of the temporary suspension would focus instead upon developing uniform gun regulations between the districts, Leopold said.

Still, many county residents voiced adamant complaint regarding the suspension. Highlighting the economic and civil repercussions was Boulder Creek resident Gordon Stewart. Stewart was convinced the process had been handled in ill faith.

“It’s not just victim disarmament… The board illegally denied [the new gun store] a business permit, when they should have offered guidelines for readmission to the process,” Stewart said.

Many citizens shared Stewart’s standpoint and other gunshop owners substantiated his fear regarding the economic setbacks.

“Our store sells to local firefighters, policemen throughout the county, and concerned UCSC professors,” said Wes Holst, co-owner of Santa Cruz Armory, “Victim disarmament is not the only issue here.”

Santa Cruz Armory is one of nine ammunition depots within Santa Cruz County’s unincorporated area that will be affected by the proposed legislation.

As a result of the recent influx of violence in schools, the murders at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook the most notable of which, many citizens in attendance of the forum were stirred emotionally by the proposal. There was a fundamental divide that pervaded most of the debate, one between Second Amendment supporters and citizens who represented family values.

The most common point of contention among the public was the belief that the board sought to regulate the possession of guns or encroach upon federal jurisdiction. Supporters argued that the board merely sought a period of hiatus in order to develop more reasonable regulation for the community.

“The county has no widespread regulation [regarding gun control],” said Jeremy Ray, member of the Live Oak School Board. “It’s our responsibility to take the time to make some.”

Ray was one of several civic leaders standing in favor of the moratorium.

“[There are] certain things that Santa Cruz provides to its citizens that the state and federal government cannot,” said Michael C. Watkins, Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools. “This is not the Second Amendment issue people are making it out to be.”

Watkins said the point of the ballot was to tie up loose ends regarding public safety. To him, the legislation was specific to Santa Cruz County’s lack of regulation more than any political sentiment.

The public forum drew a multiplicity of perspectives from work last Tuesday morning, with some from outside the county in attendance.

Sunnyvale recently declared a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries, a 45-day proposal that had been extended for a near two-year period after the initial ratification. Many were afraid the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors may abuse its right to keep business suspended in light of this precedent.

In response, all five members of the board made reference to the substantial research process that remained to be undertaken in order to implement successful regulations.

“This is the first step of many,” said Zack Friend, Second District Supervisor.

The board assured the public that all necessary provisions would be taken to get business up and running again in a timely fashion. They said they would be working directly with crews from city departments to unify the district as quickly as possible over the coming months.