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.

Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Photo by Benjamin C. Tankersley.

The issue of gun visibility may have been what ultimately kept NOVA Firearms out of Cherrydale.

“Part of the gun culture has become very in-your-face,” says Horwitz. “When you open carry, you’re making a statement [that carrying guns is normal]. I think the people in Arlington are saying, ‘This is not normal.’ ”

At the same time, he says, area gun owners and non-gun owners aren’t completely polarized in their views. “I think there is some cohesion in Arlington. The majority of gun owners aren’t interested in flashing their weapons. People are trying to be responsible.  There’s a consensus of safety first.”

Safety has certainly been a priority for local schools in the wake of Sandy Hook. In 2013, Arlington Public Schools (APS) hired Kevin Reardon, a former Arlington County police captain, to fill the newly created position of APS security coordinator.

Since then, schools have ramped up the presence of school resource officers (SROs), on-site security cameras (which can be remotely monitored and mapped by first responders) and radio communications that allow school staff to communicate with police in an emergency. Building security improvements focusing on features like locks and door placement are also ongoing, Reardon says.

Schools conduct lockdown drills at least twice a year (in September and January), per state mandates, says Cintia Johnson, APS assistant superintendent for administrative services.

And while Arlington has never encountered an active-shooter scenario on school grounds, school officials say they are constantly paying attention to incidents that play out elsewhere and adjusting their emergency plans accordingly.

Outside of school, some parents practice similar vigilance by asking whether there’s a gun in the house before sending their kids to friends’ homes for playdates.

NOVA Firearms isn’t the first gun seller to face opposition in our area. In 2014, residents of Arlington’s Nauck neighborhood pushed back when the SpecDive Tactical gun shop (which has a store near the Mixing Bowl in Alexandria) announced plans to open a second location about a block from the historic Green Valley Pharmacy on South Shirlington Road.

Josh Karrasch, owner of The Gun Dude café, a “firearms boutique and coffee shop” that sells everything from shotguns to semi-automatic pistols, was similarly thwarted by neighbors when he attempted to open his first location in Del Ray in 2014. (He later found a home for his business on West Broad Street in Falls Church.)

To Del Ray gun store opponents, it mattered little that Karrasch, a former Navy medic, emphasizes gun safety and strives to facilitate dialogue on issues like gun control. Argued one recent guest blogger, a gun owner, on The Gun Dude website: “The Second Amendment is not infringed by requiring sensible training, background screening and licensure.”

Gun owner Brad Winkelmann. Photo by Benjamin C. Tankersley.

Studies confirm that this view is becoming more mainstream. Some 85 percent of Americans now favor expanded background checks, according to an August 2015 report issued by the Pew Research Center. Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) support laws preventing people with mental illness from purchasing guns, and 70 percent support the idea of a federal database to track all gun sales.

Winkelmann counts among a growing number of gun owners who see prudence in measures like waiting periods, competency tests and stricter background checks.

“It seems like the pendulum is always swinging to one side completely or the other side,” he says. Perhaps there is a middle ground.

Categories: Community