- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Marine Corp. veteran James Gates has canceled his plan to open a gun shop in Arlington amid community protest and outrage and his landlord’s decision to pull his lease.

“When news of our planned location in Arlington became public, there were some local critics; however they enjoyed outsized influence when anti-civil rights campaigns backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg picked up their cause,” Mr. Gates wrote in a statement. “Make no mistake, whether it is billionaire Michael Bloomberg or a few local critics, an attack on a gun dealer like ourselves is an attack on the Second Amendment.

“Those who wish to ban gun shops also wish to ban private ownership of firearms,” he said. “When the opponents of gun ownership fail at the ballot box, they resort to social pressure and interference with the private business of others.”

Residents of Arlington — which in 2012 overwhelming voted for President Obama and is located a mere five miles from the nation’s capitol — had been trying to bully Mr. Gates from opening the shop since May, when word leaked he was going to open a sporting goods shop that would sell guns in a Cherrydale neighborhood strip mall.

A petition was formed by Susan Newton, protesting the shop’s opening, and demanding property owner Kostas Kapasouris renege on his lease to the young veteran. Another website, NoGunShop.org, was launched, detailing how gun violence affects communities. The shop’s grand opening was planned for August.

Mr. Gates, who owns Nova Firearms in McLean, said his landlord notified him Friday that he intended to break the lease.

“I changed my mind,” said Mr. Kapasouris in an interview with The Washington Times. “Guns are legal and fine, and the store would’ve been perfectly all right if it were the only store around. But here, right now, we have a nail salon next door with women and children coming in and out, and it didn’t feel right for those kids to see someone going out of the store next door with a gun.”

Mr. Kapasouris said he “doesn’t get brainwashed,” and the decision to cancel the lease was his own.

Over the weekend, a plyboard sign was hung over the door of the would-be shop, spray-painted with “no-guns” and decked with balloons celebrating.

Mr. Gates said he has been flooded with calls urging him not to open the shop by area locals, emboldened by an article published by The Trace, a website funded by Mr. Bloomberg that reports about guns in America.

The article, entitled “This is what happens when a town opposes the opening of a gun store,” urged community members to stand up to Mr. Gates, and concluding with:

“On June 17, Dylann Roof allegedly shot and killed nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, with a Glock .45 bought lawfully at a licensed gun store. The webmaster of another protest site, nogunshop.org, tried to tie the news to Nova’s planned opening in Cherrydale, pointing out that Nova’s McClean store sells Glock .45 pistols.”

James Burnett, editorial director of The Trace, defended his outlet’s coverage, saying Mr. Gates declined to comment for the article.

“There was an ongoing local debate so vigorous The Washington Times, The Washington Post, local TV and more were covering it. The Trace saw it as a story of interest to people on all sides of the wider gun debate and decided to do an article of our own. Our reporter tried several times to interview Mr. Gates, but he declined those requests,” he said.

Mr. Gates, who also works private security in Virginia, was able to purchase his first gun-store, Nova Firearms, in McLean last year, and his girlfriend, Rachel Dresser, signed on to run the books and inventory. He knew the closer he got to the District, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, the less hospitable residents would be to his plans for a second store. Arlington County voted 69.2 percent for President Obama in 2012, making it one of the highest turnouts in support for the president’s agenda — which includes gun control — in the entire state of Virginia.

But Mr. Gates’ clientele at his McLean shop — which mostly consists of police officers and those within the intelligence community, FBI and other national law enforcement branches — were requesting he open another shop closer to the Arlington and Alexandria markets.

So in April he obliged, signing a lease with Mr. Kapasouris for a location that formerly housed a Curves workout shop and had been vacant for more than a year. Mr. Gates and Ms. Dresser started painting the walls and redoing the floors, and ordered safes and display cases for the new location.

“We’re not going to come out of this one whole,” said Mr. Gates. “We put our time, effort and heart into that place.”

Mr. Gates, who plans to open a second gun store in McLean, elected to privately settle with Mr. Kapasouris for breaking the lease rather than choosing to fight it out in court so he could dedicate money to opening another shop, and not have it tied up in the legal system.

“Nova Firearms will continue to grow, and we will continue to serve residents of Arlington and beyond,” Mr. Gates said in the statement. “To our friends across America, take note of our location. We are on the front lines of the Second Amendment, along the banks of the Potomac River across from Washington, DC. Just as free speech is the great bulwark of liberty, so shall Nova Firearms serve as the foxhole of the Second Amendment in the backyard of the nation’s capital.”

• Kelly Riddell can be reached at kriddell@washingtontimes.com.

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