The owner of the Arlington gun store that opened last month despite vociferous objections from local residents has sued 64 people, including elected officials, claiming that they conspired to destroy the business, harassed the owner and landlord and mailed death threats to the 16-year-old “owner-in-training.”
The suit, filed last week in Richmond Circuit Court, named seven state legislators who appealed to the landlord, on official General Assembly stationery, to refuse to rent 2300 N. Pershing Dr. to Nova Armory. The lawsuit also named Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey, School Board member Barbara Kanninen and multiple residents who have spoken out against the gun store.
Daniel Hawes, attorney for Broadstone Security, which does business as Nova Armory, said the plaintiffs warned the lawmakers and residents against “interference” with the business.
“People generally don’t like it if you try to destroy their business. That’s malicious behavior,” Hawes said. He said someone has been following customers who leave the store and taking photos of their cars and license plates. “There’s been all sorts of creepy stuff by people with a morbid obsession, a neurotic obsession, with firearms,” he said. “They are really dangerous people.”
The complaint says defamatory comments on social media, harassing phone calls and emails and a mailed death threat to 16-year-old Lauren Pratte forced the business to spend time and money “in merely surviving the crisis.” Pratte is the daughter of Dennis R. Pratte II, who described Nova Armory as a family-owned business. The lawsuit asks for $2.1 million in lost revenue and damages, an amount that can be tripled under law.
Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria), who signed the letter and who was singled out in the lawsuit for his comments on social media, said he was representing his constituents who do not want the gun store in the neighborhood. Levine called the lawsuit “a very, very dangerous attack on the First Amendment, an absolute attack on people’s right to speak out.”
“Protests are as American as apple pie, as pro-American as civil rights protests, as boycotts of grapes,” Levine said. “If this lawsuit succeeds, the Montgomery (Ala.) bus company ought to sue Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement for that boycott because they wanted to shut down that business.”
Upon learning that she was named in the lawsuit, 25-year resident Natalie Roy, who has opposed the gun store’s opening, said, “This guy is a bully who never cared about the neighborhood, and now he has proven it.”
Cragg Hines, a former Washington columnist for the Houston Chronicle who is now involved in local Democratic politics, said that the lawsuit is “ridiculous” and that those who opposed the gun store were engaged in fair comment.
He read the list of other residents being sued and described them as “great company. I’d get in the trenches any day with them.”
Opposition to the gun store arose in late February, when Lyon Park neighborhood residents learned that Pratte, the former owner of another gun store, had applied for a certificate of occupancy. Virginia law does not allow local governments to prohibit or regulate firearms merchants if the business complies with basic zoning rules.
More than 3,500 people signed a petition opposing the location of the gun store in a strip of storefronts just off U.S. 50, near both a military base and a private day-care facility. Members of the local civic association voted 264 to 16 to oppose the gun store.
A proposed gun store in Arlington’s Cherrydale neighborhood lost its lease last spring after local residents pressured the landlord. The only other known place that sells guns in Arlington is a pawn shop on Lee Highway, but several gun shops operate just a few miles away in Fairfax County.