Democratic elected officials in Northern Virginia worked together to engineer a campaign against a Fairfax County firearms store in a bid to politicize gun violence and drum up support for a Democrat in an election Tuesday, an exchange of emails shows.
JB Gates, owner of Nova Firearms, opened a shop in McLean after protesters thwarted his expansion efforts in Arlington County by pressuring his landlord into breaking his lease.
Delegate Kathleen Murphy, McLean Democrat, wrote an email to state Sen. Barbara Favola, Arlington Democrat, seeking help in shutting down the gun store. Ms. Favola was instrumental in organizing opposition to Mr. Gates’ shop in Arlington.
“Basically, we convinced the land owner that his business tenants would lose business,” Ms. Favola told Ms. Murphy in a reply. “In other words, moving a gun shop to a small cluster of shops in the middle of a neighborhood was bad for business.
“The argument has to be about supporting small businesses,” Ms. Favola wrote in her email. “The ‘we’ versus ‘they’ argument is winnable with the NRA.”
Ms. Murphy forwarded that email Sept. 25 to other Democrats in her district, including Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, who is up for re-election Tuesday, saying, “Lets do it.”
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Bearing Drift, a gun rights blog, obtained the officials’ emails via a Freedom of Information Act request and made them available to The Washington Times.
Ms. Murphy and Ms. Favola did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the emails. Mr. Foust declined to comment on the messages.
On Sept. 26, when Mr. Gates held the grand opening of his McLean gun shop, protesters picketed outside.
That same day, an online petition was created to thank the protesters and demand a boycott of the McLean Service Center, Mr. Gates’ new landlord.
Online forums on the Fairfax Underground public message board posted the landlord’s personal cellphone and home address and encouraged protesters to demand he break his lease with Mr. Gates.
“We’re not leaving, and our new landlords are backing us 100 percent,” Mr. Gates told The Times. “Our customers who live in the area have asked us not to back down and stay, and a lot of our customers are from McLean.
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“They protested us the day we opened, had about 115 people there. But, to be honest, that helped us more than it hurt us,” he said. “[The protesters] put us on the map. I have people statewide, in Maryland, Pennsylvania, D.C., all the way down to Florida, saying they saw us on the news and want to support us. Business is good.”
Still, Mr. Gates is perturbed by the politicizing of the issue. His shop is less than two blocks from his previous location but is closer to a school, which Democrats have cited in efforts to pique voter turnout Tuesday.
Mr. Foust issued campaign handbills saying his Republican opponent, Jennifer Chronis, is “wrong on guns” and defends Mr. Gates’ shop.
“There have been 47 school shootings this year alone,” the Foust handbill reads. “Don’t let Jennifer Chronis become Supervisor. Because it’s not right to sell guns next to a school.”
However, Virginia county supervisors have no jurisdiction over gun stores that are established in accordance with national and state laws.
Mr. Foust acknowledged as much to his Democratic comrades, noting in an email that “State law pretty much prohibits the county from regulating guns.” He attached a verbatim copy of the law.
“They’re turning my store, my livelihood, into a political debate,” Mr. Gates said. “You have this guy running for supervisor, saying without a doubt he’s going to shut us down and equating our gun shop with the reason there’s gun violence. For one thing, he can’t shut us down because we operate within Virginia state and federal laws.
“It’s just insensitive and unwise. He is using it for political gain,” Mr. Gates said.
Mr. Foust sees things differently.
“Chronis remained silent while I and other McLean area elected officials were publicly condemning the gun store owner’s decision to locate next to an elementary school,” Mr. Foust said in an email to The Times. “It appears that the pro-gun shop people were and are supporting her.”
He cited a Nova Firearms Facebook post Oct. 6 — long after the store’s grand opening and subsequent protest — that displayed Ms. Chronis’ campaign banner and said, “Make the Second Amendment an Issue in the Local Election. By now you’ve learned about the efforts of NOVA Firearms, and the threats they’ve received from their local county Supervisor.”
Mr. Foust emailed The Times a screen shot of the post, which has since been taken down.
Mr. Gates blamed Mr. Foust for publicly agitating the issue of his store’s closure and helping to organize the protest, but he said Ms. Chronis has remained largely silent on the issue.
Ms. Chronis did make a statement at the McLean Citizens Association debate in October.
“I know John [Foust] has already addressed that there are very few things really that can be done at the county level, other than addressing potentially some zoning changes,” she said at the forum, according to a transcript posted on her campaign website. “So here’s where I disagree with the way that my opponent has handled the situation. I believe it is the role of elected officials to do something about solving the problem, to de-escalate the situation and work with both parties to come to resolution.
“It is not the role of our elected leaders to publicly insult law-abiding business owners, and in my opinion, to fan the flames of an issue and only make worse the fears of the parents for political gain,” Ms. Chronis said.
Mr. Gates said Mr. Foust has yet to sit down with him to discuss the issue.
• Kelly Riddell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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