Gun shop falls short of votes needed for CUP

A local businessman’s attempt to sell guns in Eureka Springs again failed to get the required support from the city’s planning commission.

It did, however, get the approval of the majority of the commissioners.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, June 11, the short-handed planning commission, with two vacant seats, voted 3-2 in favor of granting a Conditional Use Permit to Keeling Grubb so his business, Eureka Gun & Pawn, can sell “upscale” and “collectable” firearms at its location at 3022 E. Van Buren.

However, Kyle Palmer, the city’s director of planning and community development, referenced Eureka Springs municipal code 14.08.080 regarding CUPs, which, in part, states “in no case can approval be reached with less than four (4) affirmative votes.”

“The commission has interpreted this to require four affirmative votes on each application for approval,” Palmer wrote in an email when questioned about the vote. “It is more difficult on controversial issues with the commission being short two positions.”

Commissioners Susan Harman, Tom Buford and Ferguson Stewart voted in favor of granting Grubb the CUP with Ann Tandy-Sallee and Michael Welch voting against.

After the vote, Buford and Stewart both commented that Grubb’s request meets all requirements for a CUP under city ordinance.

A post on the Eureka Gun & Pawn Facebook page indicates that Grubb intends to again appeal the decision to city council.

“I’ve been to two trials involving this application and I think we’ve kind of lost track of what we’re doing,” Buford said after the vote. “We talk about second amendment rights, right to bear arms, and the right to sell guns, possess guns, but really years ago the city council of Eureka Springs passed an ordinance that allows guns in an area if it meets CUP requirements.

“… Some people say, ‘why are you voting for guns?’ It’s not really a gun question, it’s the question of whether you know if the application meets city ordinance. … I don’t think anything in there would prohibit us from approving the CUP.”

Stewart agreed, pointing out that the city’s fee schedule even has a gun sale fee included.

“Right in the fee schedule, it says ‘gun sales, $45 fee,’ so basically the city has already endorsed this or they’d remove that fee schedule and they haven’t,” Stewart said. “So, I think as commissioners, we’ve got to obey the ordinances of the city of Eureka Springs. There’s nothing within the current ordinance structure that would prohibit us from approving this. So, that’s why I’m voting yes, because it meets all the criterias of this.

“Just down the line, if somebody wanted to sell left-handed shovels, well, I don’t think a lot of people would agree with left-handed shovels. Well, we’re not in the business of approving left-handed shovels, we’re in the business of approving businesses that meet the city ordinances. This meets every criteria that are put before us to approve. So, there’s no reason not to approve this. … This is a well-regulated body and this is a well-regulated business. It’s oversaw, it’s checked, it’s balanced and I see no problem with approving this today.”

Tandy-Sallee and Welch did not offer any comment regarding their decision to vote against the CUP.

Grubb’s re-application came after a May 16 hearing where Carroll County Circuit Judge Scott Jackson denied an appeal from Grubb after Grubb was denied the CUP last year by both the planning commission and the Eureka Springs City Council.

At the conclusion of a hearing that lasted nearly four hours in the courtroom of the Carroll County Western District Courthouse in Eureka Springs, Jackson granted defense attorney Sara Monoghan’s motion for a directed verdict, saying he would not overturn the decisions of the planning commission and city council.

The complaint filed in July 2023 by Whitfield Hyman, Grubb’s attorney, had asked the court to direct the city to issue a conditional use permit. The complaint also sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs.

The planning commission was deadlocked 3-3 on the issue last year before an appeal went to city council.

“We’re not asking for a pawn license in this,” Grubb told commissioners at the June 11 meeting when asked what was different about his application that the one that was denied last year. “We’re asking for just a license, or a permission to transfer our federal firearms license to our other store, which is here in town, so we can sell firearms out of that store.”

Grubb said his store outside city limits sells “high-end” and “collectable” firearms and is serviced by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office.

“They are a great team of people, but if we have a call, if we needed them for some reason, it could be an hour and a half for them to make it to our store,” Grubb said. “The store we have here in town is a much safer location, not only for us, but the community.”

Grubb reminded commissioners that the location in the city has a “5K camera system” and plenty of safes.

“We’re wanting to bring higher-dollar firearms into our location and sell them,” he said. “The tax base would increase greatly for Eureka.”

The Eureka Springs location sells everything related to firearms but the actual guns, along with outdoors and camping type equipment. In addition to running the locations inside and outside of city limits, Grubb and his family also attend gun shows to do business.

“We’re doing gun shows now because that’s kind of what we’re limited to,” he said.

Grubb also explained the extensive background check each customer goes through when purchasing a firearm.

“I know there’s a misconception that [a customer] can come in and hand you $200 and they leave [with a gun],” Grubb said. “It doesn’t work like that. If we had a customer come in and they want to buy a firearm, we have a two-page background check they fill out. At that point, we submit it into a computer database, which is the ATF and FBI, and they do a background check on them. They tell us if they’re mentally unstable, they can’t buy one. If they’re a felon, they can’t buy one. There’s a lot of prerequisites.

“They have to be a certain age. They have to be an Arkansas resident to buy a handgun. Some residents from other states could come in and buy a rifle or a shotgun in our store; however, we have to call and verify with the ATF office where they’re at and if they can buy that firearm and if there’s no restrictions in the area they live in to prohibit them from doing so.”

Ferguson thanked Grubb for re-applying for the CUP.

“We appreciate you saying that more than you know,” Grubb responded.

The 3-2 vote came after a public comment portion where supporters and foes of the CUP voiced their opinions.

Five people spoke during the session, four voicing support for Grubb obtaining the CUP. Palmer also read 16 letters submitted regarding the proposal, 10 of which were against gun sales at the business.

Resident David Parkman said comments that a business selling guns increases crime is “completely false.”

“I’m here to support someone who wants to own a business and wants to operate a business that he has the constitutional right to,” Parkman told commissioners, adding that the city is interfering with Grubb’s ability to operate a business. “If the business isn’t successful, he’ll go away. If it is, he pays taxes to the city.”

Resident Carolyn Colmer, the only one to speak against the CUP, said she was “very against” the sale of guns in city limits.

“This town does not need a gun shop,” she said. “Go to Berryville and buy your darn guns. … Now, I drive up and down 62 and I see some young people that don’t look well, and I mean between the ears, and I don’t want to see one of these young people with an AR-15 in their hands going into Eureka Springs schools, where I was a substitute teacher before.”

Leah Herron, executive vice president of “Gun Owners of Arkansas” also spoke at the meeting, saying it was possible her organization would “stand against Eureka Springs” if Grubb’s CUP was denied.

“We’re here in support of Keeling Grubb and we believe he has a constitutional free market right to have a business of his choice for legal activity in this town,” Herron said. “We do not feel that hurt feelings or scared people should have any place in deciding what someone can do with basically a constitutional-protected amendment, the Second Amendment.

“He’s not doing something illegal. He’s not asking to go against anything. Gun Owners of Arkansas has had to stand against Eureka Springs in the past, and we’re prepared to do so again if need be.”

A Facebook post by Gun Owners of Arkansas from Wednesday morning, June 12, voiced displeasure at the vote by the planning commission.

“GO-AR is discussing options for moving forward,” the post included.

Another post by the group earlier in the day Wednesday, was even more terse, calling Eureka Springs a “unique liberal stronghold.”

“GO-AR will be in touch with the City and make them aware of our displeasure with the city denying Mr. Keeling Grubb his right to operate a legal, constitutional protected business and hopefully address this issue, however if they are so entrenched in denying this permit GO-AR is prepared to escalate action on an ongoing basis until this issue is resolved.

“We’ll be happy to bring them the attention they deserve. Don’t tread on us.”