Community groups push back against plan for gun shop in Spring Garden area

A proposal to open a gun shop near Philadelphia’s Spring Garden Street is confronting a growing resistance from neighbors and community groups.

The plan calls for selling weapons inside an existing shooting range, and the city’s zoning board intends to debate the proposition Wednesday.

The Rev. Leslie Callahan was among area residents and gun-control advocates who held a small rally around the site over the weekend to direct attention to something that might have otherwise gone unnoticed: a variance application by the operator of the shooting range.

Callahan is the pastor at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, about 450 feet away from the range.

“We don’t want to be the point of entry for additional guns on the streets of Philadelphia,” Callahan said. “The other piece of this is that site was a site where a lot of straw purchasing went on previously.”

Colosimo’s, a gun shop that once operated near the shooting range seeking the variance, was shut down by federal authorities in 2009 over sales to straw purchasers — those who buy guns for someone else, often to traffic the weapon on the underground market.

Callahan, who has no proof the new store would feed the illegal trade, said she doesn’t want to leave it to chance.

“I don’t buy the idea that someone whose job, or whose livelihood, is selling guns, is most concerned with where the guns end up,” she said.

Yuri Zalzman, who operates the shooting range, said there’s “tremendous demand” among his shooting range customers to purchase guns. Over the last three years, around 25,000 customers have fired at the range, he said.

It’s a fallacy that gun sellers attract thugs and felonious residents, Zalzman said. Instead, many of his customers are veterans, members of law enforcement and shooting hobbyists.

“If you were a criminal, I’d stay away from an area where guns are sold. By implication, the people in that area are going to be armed,” he said.

Plus, he said, refusing to sell people bullets and guns is something he would do regularly, if he had reason to believe the forearms would be put to illicit use.

Pennsylvania requires gun buyers to pass state and federal background checks, including a check on mental health records.

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