Up in Arms
Many local residents bristle at the thought of a gun store in their neighborhood. But Arlington is already home to more guns than some may realize.
Still, there are those who say they just feel safer with a firearm close at hand. “I’m not going to leave my child motherless without a fight,” says Marcia Burgos-Stone, who lives in Columbia Forest with her husband, an Arlington County police officer, and their 13-year-old daughter.
Gun ownership is not a responsibility she takes lightly. “I’m very comfortable with my gun. But that’s because I go to the range often and practice,” Burgos-Stone stresses. “If you’re in a live situation where you need to use your gun, you have to have good muscle memory because your fight-or-flight response takes over.
When I go to the range, I practice shooting with both hands. I draw. I reload the magazine. I take steps backward as I shoot. It’s important to be prepared. If all you know how to do is pull the trigger, then you shouldn’t carry a gun.”
Though Burgos-Stone also has an alarm system on her house, she’s not the only one who sees guns as an important second line of defense. Whereas only a quarter of gun owners nationwide in 1999 said they owned guns for protection (back then, a much larger number reported using firearms for hunting), the ranks of those buying guns for safety jumped to 48 percent by 2013, according to the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.
Fear of terrorism is certainly a factor, but perhaps so is local crime. In Arlington, guns were used in 141 robberies from 2010 through 2014, according to Barbara Scott, a crime analyst with the Arlington County Police Department, as well as in 69 other violent incidents—a category that includes offenses such as murder, rape and aggravated assault.
Arlington boasts lower crime rates than many other D.C.-area jurisdictions, but that isn’t stopping certain residents from taking precautions.
“I don’t want to be the guy cowering under a table with my kids and hoping things will work out in an active shooter situation,” says Rock Spring resident Brad Winkelmann, a former police officer who now works in real estate. “The day that I had my children is basically the day…that I started carrying everywhere I go.”
Nia, who asked not to use her last name, grew up in the Bronx and remembers always having a gun in the house (her father was ex-military). Back then it made her uncomfortable, but her thinking has since shifted. “I have a permit [now] because I’ve learned more about gun safety and using it for self-defense,” she says.
Nia doesn’t carry much, but that’s partly because her husband, Max, does. Max was raised in a rural area where guns were viewed as a source of security, as well as a civil right. “[It’s] a feeling of wanting to be self-reliant, independent, sort of a good Boy Scout, you know? ‘Always be prepared,’ ” he says.
Nevertheless, Max feels there’s a stigma associated with guns in Arlington. Although permits are not required for open carry, you don’t see many locals wearing their guns in plain view while walking the dog or waiting in line for a latte.
Winkelmann, who owns several Glock pistols, doesn’t like to advertise that he’s armed. “I am absolutely, 100 percent, anti-open carry,” he says. “I think it serves no purpose. All it does is alarm people.”
James Nida, an NRA-certified gun trainer who works as chief of security for a company in Arlington, takes a similar view. He feels that carrying openly, while lawful, is “unnecessary.” In certain situations it could even prove detrimental, he says—for example, if you’re unfortunate enough to be a bystander at the scene of a crime and are presumed (by citizens or police) to be one of the perpetrators.