- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2015

Residents of Arlington, Virginia — which in 2012 overwhelmingly voted for President Obama and sits directly across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital — are trying to bully Marine Corps veteran James Gates, 28, from opening a gun shop in their neighborhood.

Last week, a petition was formed by local resident Susan Newton protesting the shop’s opening and demanding property owner Kostas Kapasouris renege on his lease to the young veteran. The shop’s grand opening is planned for August.

“We, the citizens of Arlington County, oppose a gun shop at this location,” the petition at Change.org reads, citing the proposed venue is within two blocks of a city school and close to others. “It is unconscionable, in an era where our children are forced to practice ‘lock down’ drills designed to train them how to protect themselves from armed intruders, to locate a gun shop anywhere in the vicinity of schools.

“The fear of armed intruders permeates their education, and placing a shop that sells guns and/or ammunition within immediate distance of schools is confusing to students at best, and sparks fears of access to them at school at worst,” the petition says.

So far it has collected 1,741 signatures.

“We thought there [would] maybe [be] a little pushback, but nothing like this,” said Mr. Gates, who said some community members have been calling him voicing their concerns. “They really don’t know anything about the shop, what it’s going to be — or federal firearms laws for that matter. They’re really shooting first and then asking questions later.”

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Mr. Gates served in the Marine Corps security forces from 2004 to 2008, enlisting after he graduated from high school. After completing his service, he bartended at Buffalo Wild Wings in Bowie, Maryland, and tried to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

That’s where he met Rachel Dresser, a former student at the University of Maryland, and the two decided to get a federal firearms license together — as he knew guns and how to shoot from his time in the service — and she wanted to be her own boss and run her own shop.

Mr. Gates, who also works private security in Virginia, was able to purchase Nova Firearms in McLean, Virginia, last year, and Ms. Dresser signed on to run the books and inventory.

Their business took off, much like the national firearms industry itself.

In April, the American firearms industry said more than 10.8 million guns were manufactured in 2013 — double the total of just three years earlier. Moreover, for the first time in more than two decades, more Americans say that protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership, 52 percent to 46 percent, according to a Pew Research poll.

Still, Mr. Gates knew the closer he got to Washington, the less hospitable a new store reception may be, what with the District of Columbia having some of the toughest gun laws in the country. In addition, Arlington County is a bastion of liberalism in Virginia, having voted 69.2 percent for Mr. Obama in 2012.

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But at the McLean shop, Mr. Gates’ clientele — which mostly consists of police officers, those within the intelligence community and members of the FBI and other federal law enforcement branches — would often request that he open another shop closer to the Arlington and Alexandria markets.

So in April he obliged, signing a lease in a strip mall on Lee Highway in the Cherrydale neighborhood of north Arlington that was formerly a Curves workout shop, and which had been sitting vacant for more than a year. When Mr. Gates and Ms. Dresser started painting the walls and redoing the floors, neighborhood chatter began circulating as to who the new tenants were going to be.

The news was leaked last week by Mr. Kapasouris to a neighborhood blogger — and it took off like a brushfire, with the petition starting shortly thereafter and local news stations all requesting coverage.

“What worries me is that the landlord will be pressured to go against his word. We already have a lot invested into this new shop, we put new floors down, painted the walls, bought display cases. If we backed down we’d lose a ton,” said Mr. Gates.

And he has reason to be worried. Mr. Kapasouris told local news station WJLA-TV last week: “The community is very upset, and I don’t want the community to be upset.” The landlord said to the local television station he was looking for a way to legally break his lease with Mr. Gates.

Mr. Kapasouris declined comment to The Washington Times.

Many of the community’s concerns are unfounded — driven by passion and not by the facts, said Ms. Dresser, 27.

“Parents are worried their kids will hang out at the shop. I’m sorry, but that’s not going to be the case. We’re going to have a sign on the door that says if you’re under 17, you can’t come in without a parent,” she said. “We don’t want kids hanging out in our store either.”

Ms. Dresser and Mr. Gates said one of the reasons they wanted the new space inside a strip mall was because it would give them room to expand beyond guns and become a broader sporting goods shop. They’re planning on selling Oakley sunglasses, holsters, accessories and patriotic-themed clothing and gear.

All gun sales at the shop will require the federally required background check — Mr. Gates and Ms. Dresser also had to undergo a check to open the new shop — and everything in the store will be unloaded. Mr. Gates and Ms. Dresser have to go through an extensive licensing process to open up the shop, and have the state and county’s approvals and are waiting only on a federal government nod.

Since taking over the McLean shop, they haven’t received any ATF violations and have maintained a good working relationship with their ATF agent, Ms. Dresser said.

They don’t plan on putting guns in the window of their Arlington store and will have their inventory in the back, out of eyeshot from the street. The pistols will be in a case, and rifles and long guns on the wall, so that a customer has to request to see an item and can’t simply take it off the shelf. Mr. Gates and Ms. Dresser have even discussed tinting the windows of the store.

Still, the community backlash has them both on edge.

“A gun store is not the right image for our community,” said Eric Dobson, an Arlington resident in the online petition. “My money is walking to landlords who care about the community and not just their fat wallets.”

Ms. Newton — who created the petition — said online she is sending it to the Arlington County Board and School Board, and plans to present it to Mr. Kapasouris after Memorial Day.

In response to her post, Honora Mary Laszlo said: “I and many friends stand ready to form a picket line if necessary. Kostas needs to know all businesses will be negatively affected by this unfortunate decision.”

Mr. Gates and Ms. Dresser hope the community will reconsider. They are working with community leaders to set up a gathering to explain their vision for the store as well as clear up any misconceptions that may be floating around online.

“We’re hoping it will be an informative discussion. We’re not looking for it to become a Second Amendment debate, but rather for the community to get to know us and the laws surrounding the firearms industry,” said Ms. Dresser.

“We want to be a part of the community. If they give us a chance, we’ll prove it to them,” said Mr. Gates. “We’re trying.”

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

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