Interested in absurdity wrapped in hypocrisy? Look no further than the recently concluded session of the North Dakota Legislature. While there are several examples of legislative malfeasance and outright stupidity, one that enshrines those attributes is a bill-signed-into-law that will allow gun sales in neighborhoods, even if a city had banned such sales, even if the neighborhood objects. It’s another example of legislators giving lip service to local control and then taking it away. In the case of this particularly bad legislation, majority lawmakers knee-jerked their way into a one-size-fits-all law that erodes local sovereignty and opens the door for more usurpation of the powers of governments that are closest to the governed.
A few intellectually challenged lawmakers would have us believe that restricting gun sales in neighborhoods that don’t want weapons peddling next door is an affront to the right to bear arms as guaranteed in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That’s a crock. The Fargo law did not restrict gun sales. Rather, it determined where sales could be done and where they were prohibited. It was a zoning ordinance that had worked well in the city for years. It made sense because residents of discreet neighborhoods should have some influence over what is allowed under the law and what is kept out. Zoning and planning protocols, while never perfect, provide stable frameworks and standards that determine the character and attractiveness of neighborhoods.
The Fargo City Commission recognized and respected the wishes of a neighborhood where a resident wanted to sell guns and conduct other gun-related commerce out of his home. Neighbors objected to the likelihood of patrons toting guns and ammunition into the proposed gun business. Others just did not like the idea of a gun sales outlet in the neighborhood. Their wishes should have prevailed. Local sentiment should have won the day. Instead, legislators opted to strip legitimate zoning authority from Fargo and every other city in the state. It’s absurd to pass such ham-handed state interference in local zoning. Fargo’s zoning priorities are different from other towns. Fargo is not Edgeley, for example. Fargo leaders had responded properly to the priorities and concerns of people in a neighborhood. The same could be true of Edgeley, but the outcome might be different. That’s what local control is all about. That’s what the Legislature’s majority so cavalierly quashed.
What’s next? Some clever fellow convinces lawmakers that it’s OK to locate an auto junk yard in a high-end residential neighborhood? City historic districts (Fargo’s Hawthorne neighborhood) should allow home-based fast-food outlets and pawn shops? Preventing a bar or an exotic dancer club from locating in a residential neighborhood constitutes restraint of trade? Given the Legislature’s hypocrisy regarding local control, it’s possible.
Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s editorial page editor. He is the author of a new history of Forum Communications Co. Contact him at email@example.com or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.