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.

Gun sellers, meanwhile, are continuing their search for literal ground—specifically, neighborhoods that won’t try to run them out of town.

After losing his bid to open in Cherrydale, NOVA Firearms owner J.B. Gates relocated his business from its original spot on Elm Street in McLean to a larger storefront, just a half-mile away on Chain Bridge Road. He’s since received several visits from protesters.

At issue is the fact that the shop’s parking lot abuts the backyard of Franklin Sherman Elementary School. Many school parents say they were hoping for a more family-friendly business, such as an ice cream or coffee shop, to occupy the building that until recently housed an artist’s portrait studio. (A Change.org petition launched in opposition to the store now has more than 2,600 supporters.)

“We don’t want [a gun store] near our children in school,” says Richard Evans, a father of two school-aged kids, one of whom attends Franklin Sherman. “This seems to be too close to be reasonable.”

In a September press statement, Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust acknowledged that NOVA Firearms had every right to occupy its new location, but called the move a “shocking lack of judgment” on the part of Gates and the landlord.

Gates nevertheless did a brisk business on the first day, serving about 75 customers. Some went out of their way to stop by and show their support, he says, buying small items like ammunition or gun-cleaning kits.

Like Karrasch, Gates offers basic firearms classes and issues certificates of completion that participants can use to apply for concealed handgun permits. He says he’s also looking into offering personal safety classes in the use of mace, Tasers and other non-lethal weapons.

On the matter of gun control, however, he maintains a hard line. “Universal background checks [are] a stepping-stone to gun registration in Virginia,” he says—something he believes most gun-owners in the Commonwealth, himself included, will not tolerate.

In November, Gates attempted to lease a second space in Falls Church and was again met with protests. (That deal is currently in limbo as a result.)

In January, picketers returned outside of his McLean store after a burglary in the weeks before Christmas resulted in two stolen handguns.

He’s still hoping to find a place in Arlington—a market he considers prime territory. Though his store has always served hunters and hobbyists, along with a few “preppers” (people who think the apocalypse is coming), “our biggest, biggest clientele is federal, local and state law enforcement and military,” he says.

He thinks an Arlington shop near the Pentagon would serve those buyers well.

G. Stephen Thurston teaches journalism at Montgomery College in Rockville and lives in Arlington.

Categories: Community