From Lancaster Online by Tom Knapp, Staff Writer.
A debate over gun violence has erupted in Manheim Township, where a new gun shop has opened on a busy intersection near Franklin & Marshall College and Lancaster Country Day School.
“The opening of such a business without notice and consultation, in an era when school shootings are increasing, shocks the conscience,” F&M President Daniel Porterfield told township commissioners during a public meeting Monday.
Porterfield earned raucous applause from the crowd when he urged commissioners to update the ordinance that allows the gun shop.
Located in the former Reifsnyder’s piano store at 1020 Dillerville Road — just off Harrisburg Pike — the Gun Gallery sells firearms, ammunition, clothing and accessories.
Brian Buecker, who rents the building from Themi Sacarellos, previously operated the business at 36 S. Prince St., Millersville.
Buecker declined to talk to a reporter Tuesday.
But the crowd — including residents, parents and officials from F&M, Country Day and the School District of Lancaster — had plenty to say to commissioners Monday.
“Gun violence is a raging debate,” said township resident Dana Hamp Gulick, a candidate for a state House seat in the 97th district, said.
She said the large windows on three sides of the store are “an easy opportunity for break-ins. It’s appalling.”
Resident Rubi Nicholas said it’s ironic that her daughter used to take piano lessons where “music has been replaced with bullets.”
Another resident, Tina Campbell, said zoning should forbid gun stores near schools.
Todd Trout, assistant headmaster at Country Day, noted the gun shop is only 950 feet from the school parking lot.
Township manager Sean Molchany did not respond to questions on the gun store Tuesday.
In an email Feb. 21, Molchany said the township “is not the regulatory authority for the sale of firearms,” and he declined to answer questions about the store’s proximity to schools.
Commissioners on Monday voiced their own frustrations regarding the store.
Board president Albert Kling said he first learned about the gun shop when he read about it in LNP.
"We share your concerns. We feel we’ve been had."
“We’re trying to do something behind the scenes,” he said. “Any violations will be reported to federal agencies. We share your concerns. We feel we’ve been had.”
Commissioner Sam Mecum said a gun shop wasn’t mentioned during a recent public hearing on the property.
Board vice president Donna DiMeo said the problem is that the tract is zoned retail, and “you can’t change the zoning once it’s done.”
Right now, Kling said, “we can’t do anything. As we go forward, we’re looking at our zoning ordinance. The state of Pennsylvania tells us what we can do.”
Sacarellos said he’s gotten “a lot of inquiries” about the shop since it opened.
He said he understands the public’s concerns, although he’s frustrated to be a target of their ire.
“We’re landlords ... and we don’t like vacant space, for a number of reasons. We had a lot of graffiti, a lot of break-ins in that building,” he said.
Permits and approvals to operate the business, whether at a federal or municipal level, are up to the business owner to secure, he said.
“We hand the guy a lease. We hand him keys. From there, it’s his responsibility,” Sacarellos said. "We couldn’t have timed this any worse. ... I get that people are upset."
The lease brings in an income from the property while preparing for redevelopment, he said.
Eventually, he plans to put a diner and other properties on the tract. The gun store’s lease expires in November, he said.
“It’s only temporary,” Sacarellos said. “Of course, this is a politically charged topic at the moment. We couldn’t have timed this any worse. ... I get that people are upset.”
He said he wants to avoid getting embroiled in a debate over guns, although he said that “not every gun is evil, and not every gun shop is evil.”
He insisted that he will not renew the lease beyond November, no matter what the circumstances are at the time.
“Especially after the people have spoken as loudly as they have,” he said.
LNP correspondent Joan Kern contributed to this report. Photo by Suzette Wenger, LNP staff photographer.