In the three years since Yuri Zalzman purchased an old shooting range in the reviving North Philadelphia neighborhood of West Poplar, he has hosted gun enthusiasts, sold ammunition to customers, and rented guns to practicing marksmen. Now, he thinks he should be allowed to sell firearms, too.
Philadelphia's Zoning Board is not so sure.
After nearly three hours of oral arguments Wednesday, the board asked attorneys to submit briefs outlining their positions.
That means that West Poplar residents and antiviolence groups - about 50 people attended Wednesday's hearing - will have to wait at least another month to learn whether Zalzman can open a gun shop in his North Percy Street building.
In Philadelphia, gun shops are normally allowed only in industrial zones, and only if situated more than 500 feet from a church, school, or residence.
Zalzman's business, the Gun Range, at 542 N. Percy, is in a commercial zone, but is surrounded by new housing and is across the street from the artists' studio 915 Spring Garden.
Also across the street is a Buddhist temple. A residence for senior citizens is around the block, and St. Paul's Baptist Church is nearby.
The neighborhood has undergone a dramatic revival in the six years since the U.S. Attorney's Office shut down Colosimo's gun shop, nearby at 933 Spring Garden St., for selling hundreds of weapons to straw buyers. Zalzman acquired the shooting range from Colosimo's former owner, James Colosimo.
Zalzman is now trying to use the city's new zoning code to add gun sales to the range's services. Because the code makes no distinction between a gun range and a gun shop, his lawyers claim, he is legally entitled to sell guns.
"Our position is that it's a permitted use," lawyer Dawn Tancredi said.
Lawyers for the city and a coalition of civic groups and antiviolence organizations argued that his interpretation was flawed.
"Just because there is no definition of gun range in the code doesn't mean it allows you to sell guns," said Joseph Beller, who represents the opponents.
The case has drawn interest from gun-rights advocates and antiviolence groups, including Heeding God's Call and CeaseFirePA.
Tancredi said the case raises significant Second Amendment issues. She also seemed to be laying a foundation to appeal the Zoning Board's decision in the courts.
Zalzman initially filed for a variance. But at the start of Wednesday's hearing, Tancredi dropped that request.
Instead, she asked the board to overturn the city's decision to reject Zalzman's sales permit.
"That just shows their case for a variance was incredibly weak," said Bryan Miller, who runs Heeding God's Call.
Zalzman told the board that the vast majority of shooting ranges in Philadelphia are allowed to sell firearms.
Most were permitted decades ago, when the zoning code treated such uses differently.