SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday brought a temporary halt to new gun shops, putting a unanimous cap on the end of a long day of debate on gun rights and public safety.
More than 100 people attended the meeting, and the issue took on greater meaning than the 45-day timeout called by the board. The vote was triggered by a proposed gun store at 38th Avenue and Portola Drive, but comes as the memory of last month's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre still burns, and as President Obama is set to announce new gun control efforts Wednesday.
"This is not about banning the sale of firearms, and it's not about taking advantage of a political moment," said Supervisor John Leopold, who represents Pleasure Point. "This is a reasonable set of land-use regulations that, working with our Planning Department, Sheriff's (Office) and our County Counsel, we can develop something very quickly. We don't need to reinvent the wheel."
Meanwhile, the would-be owners of the proposed gun shop have not publicly identified themselves or filed a permit.
Both Capitola and Santa Cruz have some form of gun shop regulations, and Leopold said he was surprised to learn the unincorporated areas of the county had none. He wants to look at issues surrounding security, ammunition storage, proximity to schools, home sales, background checks for owners and whether the shop would be located in an area with a high number of police calls.
The issue brought out strong opinions on both sides. Live Oak resident Chris Parsons opposed the moratorium, and -- like many others -- told the board the issue has implications for people's right to bear arms.
"Ask yourself if you are proposing this because you personally don't like guns? If that's the case, you are not doing this as a public servant," Parsons said.
Jeremy Ray, a Live Oak School Board member, fire captain, father and gun owner, lives three blocks from the proposed shop at the El Rancho Shopping Center. He supported the county's effort to call a timeout and draw up some rules.
"I don't see this as quite as big of a picture, Second Amendment issue that everyone else here sees," Ray said. "I see it as a simple opportunity to exercise local control and make sure that the proper (regulations) that we want to have here locally are in place."
Kalyne Foster, a development director at Women's Crisis Support-Defensa de Mujeres, pointed to statistics that women are five times more likely to die during domestic violence incidents if there is a gun in the home. Others opined that they want stricter gun regulations, including some who wanted them banned altogether.
"I think if Cain had a gun, he would have killed his whole family, not just his brother," said one speaker.
The clock for drawing up those regulations started Tuesday. Asked whether she thought the board would enact rules making it impossible for the proposed shop to open, El Rancho Senior Vice President Patti Eller said she was optimistic it eventually would open.
"I would hope they'd be reasonable and fair," Eller said.
The county has 21 federally issued dealer licenses, the same as Solano County and one more than Monterey County, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. There may be just one place to buy a gun in Santa Cruz -- Outdoor World -- but several sellers operate out of their homes, and the mountains are populated with gun owners and civil libertarians. Watsonville and Capitola also have stores that sell guns and ammunition.
Three of those licenses are owned by Outdoor World. Retired owner Bob Thomas said Tuesday he is proud of how his stores handle gun sales. And while he said he would not oppose the moratorium, during a colloquy with Leopold, he said his businesses weren't impeded by regulations in Santa Cruz and Capitola.
Boulder Creek Hardware owner Doug Conrad objects to the moratorium. While he doesn't sell guns out of his community hardware store, he does sell ammunition.
"I hope to jog the board's memory that Boulder Creek is very different than Live Oak and laws you may wish to impose on (the) Live Oak community may not fit well within the Boulder Creek community," Conrad wrote in a letter to the board, one of scores that poured in over the weekend.
Another writer, David Foster, backed the moratorium as a line in the sand against crimes. Foster's sister, Joan Gianera, was a 1973 shooting victim of serial killer Herbert Mullin.
"The impact of gun violence is generational. This is an opportunity for the county to take a positive step to protect the lives of our residents," Foster wrote.
Drawing up gun regulations could be tricky. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that gun ownership is an individual right, handing Second Amendment advocates a big victory and setting a high bar for any regulation of the gun trade.
"If the county of Santa Cruz wants to go down this road, they're inviting litigation," said San Jose attorney Don Kilmer, a defender of Second Amendment rights. "You can't red-line a fundamental right out of existence."
In recent years, a San Francisco ban on handgun ownership was struck down, the city of Chicago lost an effort to ban shooting ranges within city limits, and Alameda County officials conceded a long-running battle over a law prohibiting gun shows on public property.
Kilmer said courts are likely to meet special zoning rules for gun shops with the same skepticism as regulations of adult bookstores, which enjoy First Amendment protections.
In general, bookstore regulations must be shown to have a beneficial effect on public safety, and Kilmer said he does not know of a study showing gun shops lead to upticks in crime.
Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsdude