Hundreds of people protested in McLean outside the gun shop NOVA Firearms on its opening day, Saturday, Sept. 26. Protesters were upset because the gun shop is on property that borders Franklin Sherman Elementary School.
McLean resident Victoria Manoogian was driving through McLean on Friday morning when she saw people carrying guns into a location that had been a photography studio. When Manoogian discovered that a gun shop was opening right next to Franklin Sherman Elementary School, she started a petition on change.org against the new location for NOVA Firearms and worked with local government officials to organize the Saturday protest.
”We just don’t want this store at this location bordering an elementary school. We certainly don’t want to have to drive by the store and explain it to our kids.”
— Victoria Manoogian
“IT DOESN’T MATTER if you are a Republican or a Democrat. It doesn’t matter whether you are for or against using guns. We just don’t want this store at this location bordering an elementary school. We certainly don’t want to have to drive by the store and explain it to our kids,” Manoogian said.
Janie Strauss was former PTA president at Franklin Sherman Elementary School, and now represents Dranesville District on the Fairfax County School Board.
“Franklin Sherman Elementary School is one of the schools in my district that I am sworn to protect,” Strauss said. Strauss is looking into whether legal action can be taken to shut down NOVA Firearms, but even if NOVA Firearms legally borders an elementary school, Strauss believes that its location is inappropriate.
According to Strauss, the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 is a federal United States law that prohibits any individual from knowingly possessing a firearm within 1,000 feet of school property or in a school zone, but the law allows exceptions including that guns are allowed on private property that is not part of school zones and unloaded and locked guns are not prohibited.
“Children learn best in a school where they feel safe and protected and where there is a calm environment. I believe that a gun store that is selling high volume, high powered guns does not contribute to a safe and calm school environment,” Strauss said.
Other elected officials at the protest included Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34), State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31), Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48), Del. Marcus Simon (D-53) and Supervisor John Foust, (D-Dranesville).
Alexandria resident Abby Spangler, who founded two national organizations, Protest Easy Guns and the Campaign to Close the Gun Show Loophole, in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, was also at the protest.
“Americans are fed up with gun violence. We are fed up with easy access to guns by criminals and dangerous individuals, and we’re fed up with the terrible loss of human lives in America because of our terrible gun laws. The carnage has to stop,” Spangler said.
NOVA FIREARMS’ owner James Gates is sensitive to the concerns of the protesters.
“The protesters are exercising their right to free speech, and I’m okay with that.”
— James Gates, McLean gun store owner
“I understand that we share a backyard with the elementary school. If I could have avoided that, I would have,” Gates said. “Our main issue now is that we wanted to stay in McLean near our old shop so we could keep our current clientele. It’s hard to find a landlord in this area who will lease to a gun shop, and it’s hard to find somewhere where you are actually zoned to be able to sell the firearms. And this location happened to be a good mix of all three at a good price.”
NOVA Firearms was originally located in Falls Church, then moved to a larger Falls Church location, then moved to a larger location in McLean near the post office, and just this past week moved to its current controversial McLean location, Gates said.
“We found out about the protest late last night,” Gates said during the protest. “The protesters are exercising their right to free speech, and I’m okay with that.”
Gates has experience dealing with outraged protestors at his gun shop. NOVA Firearms signed a five year lease for a shop in Cherrydale, Arlington. Arlington residents petitioned and protested, ultimately convincing the landlord to back out of the lease.
By contrast, Gates feels more confident about keeping NOVA Firearms open in its new location thanks to its landlord, McLean Automotive Service Center, which is located right next to NOVA Firearms.
“The landlord has been really nice to us. We are hoping that they will stick behind their word and honor their contract,” Gates said.
By moving to the larger McLean location, Gates hopes to use the extra space to offer firearm safety classes. He wants to educate people to feel more comfortable around firearms. Gates also hopes to take people out to shooting ranges to show them how to safely shoot guns. NOVA Firearms is working on its class schedule and plans to have classes up and running in October. Other than the guns that the employees carry, none of the guns in NOVA Firearms are loaded.
Alexandria resident, volunteer firefighter, EMT, and new employee at NOVA Firearms Erik Lorentzen agreed that gun owners should be properly trained.
“For carrying in public, I do have fairly progressive views. I believe that people should have to pass a shooting test. You should have to prove that you can function a weapon safely and that you can hit what you are aiming at. The worst possible nightmare anyone could possibly have is shooting at a bad guy and hitting a good guy instead,” Lorentzen said.
WHEN CUSTOMERS buy a gun, they must go through a NICS FBI background check. NOVA Firearms employees take 15 to 20 minutes to fill out and submit each background check to both the state and federal governments. The background check comes back as approved, delayed, or denied within 15 minutes to four hours after the information is submitted. According to Gates, approximately 90 percent of background checks are approved. There is no waiting period beyond the background check.
Blue Ridge Mountain resident and journalist Greg Rushford visited NOVA Firearms during the protest to buy a deer rifle. He said he has been hunting deer his entire life and served in the military. Rushford has been a customer of NOVA Firearms at its former McLean location for three years and plans to continue shopping at the new location. NOVA Firearms is convenient for him because he also has a residence in Reston.
By contrast, McLean resident and federal government employee Emily Buday is less concerned about convenience for gun buyers than the safety of her identical twin daughters, who are first graders at Franklin Sherman Elementary School, virtually in the gun shop’s backyard.
“I love this community, and I love this school. I love being a part of McLean, but this is the first thing that has made me question where I live,” Buday said.
Foust: Gun Shop Location Puts Children at Risk
“The decision by the owners of the NOVA Gun Shop to locate their new retail store adjacent to Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean is unwise and inappropriate, and potentially puts the health and safety of schoolchildren and faculty at unnecessary risk,” said Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) in a statement issued Monday.
“As I noted at the citizen rally on Saturday morning at the gun shop, the owners of NOVA Gun Shop should have chosen to locate their store in a more appropriate location out of common decency and respect for our community.
Their decision represents a shocking lack of judgment by the storeowner and the landlord who entered into a lease for this facility. Whatever one's personal position on gun ownership, it is simply antagonistic to our community and frightening to concerned parents to locate a store selling firearms and live ammunition literally within 60 seconds walking distance to a school entrance.
This is an issue of judgment, not legality. Under the Virginia State Code, Fairfax County does not have the authority to deny the gun shop a use permit to operate in the facility nor to require the gun shop owner to vacate the premises and terminate its lease. Under the federal law that is intended to create a gun free zone within a 1,000 feet around public, parochial and private schools, there is a huge exception that allows a federally-licensed firearm dealer to operate a commercial storefront within that zone.
Nevertheless, while the Nova Gun Shop and the landlord may have a legal right to operate this facility in this location, it is apparent that good judgment and a reasonable concern for children's safety were absent in this situation.
The McLean community is understandably outraged by the decision to locate the gun shop next to an elementary school. I congratulate the many concerned residents who are actively protesting this bad decision. In the coming days, I will continue to explore whether there are any options we can pursue under federal, state or county law that could remove the gun shop from this location. I will also offer to work with the landlord and gun shop owner to explore constructive solutions to terminate the lease and to relocate the gun shop to a more appropriate location. In the interim, I will stand alongside concerned parents, our state legislators, and community leaders to continue to express loudly and clearly that this is a situation that cannot be tolerated,” said Foust.