GREENWOOD VILLAGE — Residents of tony Greenwood Village first learned about Tomcat Tactical by accident: A Google Maps search showed the company was based out of a house a mile from an elementary school. But the home business wasn’t offering software support or financial planning, like other home businesses in the neighborhood. This one advertised semi-automatic weapon kits and ammunition.
“Everyone who I’ve spoken to about this has been flabbergasted,” Greenwood Village resident Gary Kleeman said during a meeting in June. “How is this possible?”
Shocked by Tomcat Tactical’s existence in the homeowner association-governed Orchard Hills neighborhood, some residents started a petition to prevent the business from operating in residential areas. After months of discussion, city council members on Monday passed an ordinance that bars commercial firearm sales from residences, but doesn’t affect existing businesses such as Tomcat Tactical.
City council member Dave Kerber said it was a small step, one that avoided grappling with bigger problems like how to protect schools and prevent mass shootings.
“What we did was nothing,” he said.
Still, what local officials consider a simple zoning matter has taken on the polarizing intensity of the national gun debate that has surged in the wake of recent mass shootings.
The resident group that pushed for the ordinance received expletive-laden emails containing threats from gun-rights advocates living out of state, including one expressing a desire that “you or your loved ones get cancer and die a slow painful death.”
One woman, voice unsteady, told city council members she was reluctant to give her address and testify at a recent public meeting, citing “frightening and disturbing” messages she’d received after the petition was turned in.
Jason Pratt, a military veteran who operates Tomcat Tactical, said the ordinance was an “unwarranted attack” against him and described residents who support it as “individuals that want to invoke ideas that the rights of an individual are not important — that the mob has the right to instill their will on individuals.”
The company operates out of a house at the end of a cul-de-sac, in a room decorated with a framed copy of the Constitution, a flag and signs saying “Liberty” and “Freedom.”
“No one has come to me — none of the individuals that spoke here today — have come to speak to me and find out what it is that I’m doing and how I’m doing it,” he said during a city council meeting in February when the ordinance was discussed.
He has said he would “pursue all legal options” if the Greenwood Village ordinance passed.
Previously, home businesses in Greenwood Village could largely sell any legal good as long as the business wasn’t offensive to the five senses or detectable outside the home. A ground-mounted solar array might offend the eyes, a cattle-feed operation the nose. But Tomcat Tactical, until it showed up on Google Maps, drew little attention and traffic, Kerber said.
“You couldn’t tell if (customers) are going for a book club,” he said.
City attorney Tonya Haas Davidson also said Greenwood Village has permissive regulations on home businesses that don’t disturb the residential character of the area.
Tomcat Tactical’s owner “has been operating his business for years with absolutely no issues,” Davidson explained in an email to a resident that was reviewed by The Colorado Sun. “A perception of potential harm will not overcome an actual history of zero problems.”
There have not been actual problems at the business, just complaints about its existence and that it “makes people uncomfortable,” Davidson wrote, in an email to another resident, adding it was “nothing that would involve the police doing an investigation.”
Several cities and counties bar the sale of commercial firearm sales from homes, often through rules on what kinds of businesses can operate in residential areas. Neither the Colorado Municipal League nor a nascent state Office of Gun Violence Prevention currently track local firearm regulations in Colorado.
Nearly 60% of gun dealers nationwide operate in residential areas, according to a legal memo prepared by an outside attorney for Greenwood Village staff that cites the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. More than 60% in Colorado are in residential settings.
Boulder has seven licensed gun dealers, five of which operate out of homes. Of nearly 80 dealers in the Littleton, Centennial, Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Greenwood Village and Englewood areas, 64% are in residential zones, according to the memo.
The debate over the ordinance highlights more basic questions about how neighbors live side by side in relative harmony, Kerber said — particularly in a city that has banned possession of marijuana and moved to swiftly remove unauthorized solar arrays.
“We spent so much time on this ordinance which was nothing,” Kerber said, “instead of sitting down and making hard choices on, like, how do we defend our schools.”
But Pratt considers the ordinance an infringement on Second Amendment rights and said “zoning” was used as a “masking term.” Similar language was used to keep minorities out of certain neighborhoods in the past, he said.
“If I was running a blog or a newspaper out of my house, I doubt we’d be in the situation,” Pratt said.
Concerns date back to 2019
Concerns about Tomcat Tactical date back to at least 2019, when several residents called police asking them to investigate the shop’s legality, according to dispatch logs.
Months later, a letter was circulated among neighbors drawing attention to the company. And residents collected more than 250 signatures on a petition presented to city officials that called Tomcat Tactical offensive and “a threat to the safety and enjoyment of our neighborhood.”
Jackie Kirby, who has lived in Greenwood Village for about 20 years, said it felt like residents were told they had to wait for something bad to happen before action would be taken.
Paul Baumann, who last year ran for Greenwood Village City Council, said it worried him that his school-age son would be walking close to Tomcat Tactical, which is located near a path that many kids take to school.
“It is not some guy who’s just casually selling … on eBay or something,” Baumann said. “This is a full blown storefront, where you have business hours posted.”
He added: “There’s clear pictures online. You can see that the place is full of guns.”
A memo sent to city officials by the ordinance’s backers said Tomcat Tactical advertised the sale of ghost guns — untraceable firearms assembled at home — which could entice “buyers who do not need to pass a background check” to a location close to five public schools.
“Our quiet Greenwood Village residential neighborhoods are not prepared to house businesses selling products that raise such serious safety objections,” the memo said.
Those views were not shared by all of the residents of Greenwood Village, a manicured suburb with shiny corporate parks and well-tended green spaces complete with ponds, ducks and walking paths.
Several people told city officials they opposed the ordinance because they dislike government intrusion, particularly to curb the activities of someone complying with existing state and local laws. While gun control is a hot-button issue in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, an attempt to ban firearm sales could grow to bar all home businesses, resident Jim Guiffre wrote in an email to city officials. “What product will be next?”
“I’d personally love to have Tomcat as a neighbor,” another person wrote to city officials. “Who better than someone that is trained and disciplined with weapon safety and manipulation?”
The complexity of the issue was highlighted in an email city councilmember Paul Wiesner wrote to residents.
Wiesner wasn’t sure he’d want Tomcat Tactical as a nextdoor neighbor. He questioned whether the shop fit the character of Greenwood Village. On the other hand, Wiesner wrote, he abhors government regulation. And Pratt, he wrote, is a Navy veteran, “family man and honorable individual.”
Pratt has told city council members that his customers include single women concerned about their safety and intimidated by firearm stores, as well as celebrities seeking privacy. He has instructed youth groups on the safe handling of firearms. And he checks that each customer he sells to can properly handle a firearm and has invited neighbors to see how he conducts business.
“I would like to thank my neighbors for expressing their concern for gun safety — it is one that I share and one that I’ve made a career and a livelihood out of,” he said at the February city council meeting. “I maintain a very low and small inventory in the house. I have fewer guns than most individuals own in regular homes. The guns that I do own I keep properly stored.”
Pratt wasn’t surprised by the concern his store generated. When he tried to open a shop in California, while serving in the military on Coronado Island, he said a local official “almost fell out of his chair and said ‘That’s illegal.’”
“I said, ‘No it’s not.’ I’d read the city laws, understood the state laws and federal laws,” Pratt said, during an interview Monday.
He closed his California business after lawmakers there passed a battery of firearm regulations.
Pratt opened up his home-based business in Colorado about five years ago and operates it while working full-time in the aerospace industry. Running Tomcat Tactical from home gives him freedom to not have to sell so many firearms to stay in business, he said.
His store quickly became a topic of conversation in Colorado.
Pratt remembers a neighbor “kind of lost their mind” after his website was placed on Google Maps, and began calling others. The issue was brought to the homeowner’s association. At one point, Pratt went to a neighbor’s house and came upon an impromptu meeting about his store, he said. His uncle, who rents the house to Pratt’s family and says Pratt is a dedicated veteran, gun safety advocate and in compliance with all laws, responded to a letter from a concerned neighbor and said he also felt the shop was “inappropriate for the neighborhood.”
The attention hasn’t fazed Pratt. He believes the most dangerous places in America are gun-free zones, and that lack of Second Amendment protections in Iran and communist countries let them fall under authoritarian rule. He’s spoken on MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s broadcast platform, fears the country is moving away from its foundational roots, and says teaching children about guns helps them develop an appropriate fear and understanding of their power.
Greenwood Village officials effectively granted him a monopoly on the home-firearm business in the neighborhood, he said.
“While I appreciate that, that’s not my intent,” he said. “This is bigger than me doing the business.”
Some city council members interpreted the ordinance as more about property values than safety.
“They rightly said, you know, there was a time when that same argument was used about keeping Jews and blacks out of Denver,” he said.
Local ordinances raise enforcement challenges
Greenwood Village is one of several Colorado cities that have introduced gun-related regulations in recent months, authorized by a first-of-its-kind law that empowers local governments to impose stricter firearm regulations than the state’s.
Some of those ordinances are already facing challenges. Gun rights group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners in July sued Superior over a recently passed ordinance that bans various semi-automatic weapons and enacts other restrictions, including a 10-day waiting period to buy a gun.
Local gun ordinances can represent a community’s values or allow for experimental policies that bubble up to the state level, experts said. But local efforts also have a limited effect, because it’s not difficult to travel to an area with more lax rules.
Gun violence is a messy problem with no easy fix, said Marian Betz, deputy director of the Injury and Violence Prevention Center at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz. Mitigating it requires education, policy changes and attending to the causes that underlie the majority of gun deaths, which are suicides, she said.
“I don’t think it’s wrong for local communities to try to do something themselves, just it may not fix the whole issue because these are complicated problems,” she said. “Everybody’s searching for the single solution and there isn’t one.”
Local ordinances also raise questions about what agency enforces the new patchwork of rules.
Leaving it to cities or counties to enforce gun restrictions can pose problems if officials lack the political will to carry out the regulations, or don’t have the resources or time to do so, said Glen Mays, chair of the health systems, management and policy department in the Colorado School of Public Health. Law enforcement and district attorneys also have discretion in how vigorously they pursue potential violators.
“Enforcement is not automatic,” he said.
A homeowner’s association could intervene but it could be a big — and potentially expensive — undertaking for a volunteer board, if the issue turned into a lawsuit.
Residents and state lawmaker Meg Froelich, a Democrat from Englewood, said the ATF is chronically underfunded and would not check to see if a dealer is meeting local regulations.
Froelich has also asked the state attorney general about the issue, and was told that police and sheriff’s officers have power to make sure local gun restrictions are followed.
Some Colorado sheriffs have in the past been loath to take action on gun restrictions that they consider government overreach or a breach of the constitution. The sheriff of Mesa County recently said his office would not prioritize enforcement of a limit on large-capacity magazines during a local shooting competition.
“This is the problem in gun violence prevention legislation in general,” Froelich said. “There is this gap in enforcement that maybe we have to look at a statewide solution.”