A recent increase in the number of requests to sell firearms and ammunition from private homes has prompted the Charles County Planning Commission to consider tightening its requirements for home-based occupation permits.
Five of the 15 petitions for home occupation permits in 1984 were for residential gun sales, records indicate. All five were granted, as was a request last month to sell guns and ammunition from a town house in the Waldorf, Md., development of St. Charles.
The 1984 requests were up from previous years. In 1983, three of the 11 petitions for home occupation permits were for residential gun sales. In 1982, it was only one of 11 petitions. Over the past five years, nearly all of the 14 requests for home gun dealerships have been granted, and most are still in operation, said County Zoning Administrator Linda Cooksey.
"You have to balance the needs and desires of area sportsmen, but frankly I think we're getting saturated with these requests to sell firearms," said Planning Commission Chairman Thomas M. Middleton.
In recent weeks, the planning commission has held two work sessions on the home occupations ordinance with the idea of proposing ways to tighten the law.
Prince George's, Montgomery, and Howard counties do not allow firearms sales except in licensed gun shops in commercial zones.
The three jurisdictions do screen applicants for other home jobs on a case-by-case basis. They usually allow music teachers, tutors, bakers, hairdressers and professional accountants, lawyers and doctors to work out of home offices if neighbors do not object.
Charles County does not hold public hearings on home gun sales, but often asks applicants to submit approval letters from neighbors.
Planning commissioner Brent Owens said the gun issue boils down to a "philosophical question: Is the storing and selling of guns and ammunition something we want in our residential neighborhoods?"
Owens says it is time to look at the whole issue of private gun sales before an explosion or major theft at one of the sites focuses public attention on home weapon sales.
Permits to sell firearms at homes are issued on the condition that no inventories be kept on the premises and that sales be handled through catalogues. But "the planning commission has no police powers, so there is no way we can guarantee that they the sellers aren't stocking an arsenal of guns and ammunition," Middleton said.
Planning commissioner and ex-policeman Edward M. Blanchard, however, believes there are sufficient controls on weapons sales.
Sellers must be screened by Maryland State Police for criminal convictions, he said, adding that it was his impression that "most sporting goods stores don't carry these specialty items and many of the applicants are serving members of gun clubs."
"Most people are straight with their intentions and cause no trouble, but we thought we needed a closer check on the whole issue," said Cooksey. A public hearing on the issue is planned for March.