Proposed Rutland gunsmith shop comes to a halt after community backlash

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 11:40 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 6:05 AM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Plans for a new gunsmith business in Rutland are on hold after the owner removed his zoning request following community outcry.

For months, Eric Fletcher was making headway on plans to open a gunsmith business. When he applied to rezone his home, which is located adjacent to Northeast Primary School on Temple St., he faced a backlash of negative responses on social media.

“Everybody that posted up was saying, ‘How could you open a gun shop in front of a school?’ I was never going to open a gun shop in front of a school,” Fletcher explained. “That piece of information would have avoided all of this.”

Fletcher says his business would be focused on repairs, maintenance and inspections of firearms. Rutland City Schools Assistant Superintendent Robert Bliss says his zoning application implied otherwise.

The zoning permit does say in part: “The proposed and approved project involves the establishment of a home occupation, specifically the assembly and [largely online] sales of fire arms [though not solely restricted to online sales].”

“We just came off the mass shooting in Texas and people are at a heightened point of alert,” Bliss said.

Bliss was also concerned about people being seen with firearms near school property. He says if that ever happened, the school would be placed on lockdown and the authorities would need to be contacted.

Fletcher says he never intended to sell or have an inventory of firearms at his home. The reason stated was to ensure continuity when he went on to apply for his federal firearm license. He tells WCAX News this was communicated to Rutland’s zoning office as well.

The school district filed an appeal, but Fletcher had already withdrawn his zoning application at that point.

“The way everything took a negative nosedive had pretty much kiboshed everything I had worked for up until this point,” Fletcher said.

We spoke with Rutland City’s Zoning Director Andrew Strniste. He says there are no rules on the book regarding gunsmith businesses and their proximity to schools or neighborhoods. Strniste says there wasn’t any reason Fletcher would have been denied the permit.

“I wasn’t really looking at the product being sold,” Strniste said. “I was looking at, is this a low-intensity business use that could operate out of the house?”

Without being in an area zoned for this type of business, Fletcher is unable to apply for a federal firearms license. That makes it nearly impossible to finish researching suppliers and developing a business model. While Fletcher is disappointed to see his business stop before it even started, he says he wished people had approached him about it before making assumptions.

“I respect the concerns the community brought forth. I understand them, but the way it was brought about really needs to be addressed,” Fletcher said. “As long as we’re here, there’s no way I can move forward, absolutely no way.”

Fletcher says opening a gunsmith business is something he’ll revisit if an opportunity arises. He and Bliss have spoken since the application was withdrawn. Bliss says he wants to emphasize Fletcher has been, and continues to be, a good neighbor to the school.

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