The fight between a planned Arlington gun store and its neighbors escalated this week with an exchange of threats between state lawmakers and the business owner — in the voice of his 16-year-old daughter.
A news release issued Friday by Nova Armory quotes Lauren Pratte, the daughter of business owner Dennis R. Pratte, and describes her as the gun store’s “owner-in-training.” It includes a photo of Lauren, smiling and holding an antique gun.
The release says a letter sent to the store’s landlord by seven state legislators this week amounted to “dog-whistle politics.” It warns “local agitators” — an apparent reference to the state delegates and senators as well as neighborhood opponents — that the business might sue if the gun shop fails to open.
“The actions of these local crazies against our business is approaching the level of ‘tortious interference,’ ” the news release quotes Lauren Pratte as saying. “If you’ve posted on Facebook, agitated people on the local community’s online forum, made harassing phone calls, or sent angry emails designed to interfere with our business relationship with our landlord, you are on my attorneys’ list. So if you don’t see NOVA Armory open for business, you better worry about seeing us in court.”
Dennis Pratte declined requests for an interview.
The letter from lawmakers, sent Wednesday on official General Assembly stationery, calls for property owner Katya Varley to reconsider leasing a storefront at 2300 N. Pershing Dr. to the gun store.
Signed by Dels. Patrick A. Hope (Arlington), Alfonso H. Lopez (Arlington), Richard Sullivan (Arlington) and Mark Levine (Alexandria) as well as Sens. Barbara A. Favola (Arlington), Janet D. Howell (Fairfax) and Adam P. Ebbin (Alexandria), all Democrats, the letter warned of “potentially nefarious and illegal activities” and said “NOVA Armory is already marketing aggressively to residents of surrounding states, including much of the East Coast.”
The store is not yet open. But opposition to its existence has been building since the plans became publicly known late last week.
Dennis Pratte on Friday canceled plans to meet Monday with the executive board of the Lyon Park Citizens Association. He also canceled plans to attend a community meeting in April.
Instead, according to a notice posted Friday on the Nova Armory website, the Lyon Park executive board was invited to a meeting at the store next week. The notice also said that there would be an “Open House” at the store on March 12 and that it would open for “normal business” on March 19.
The cancellation of Monday’s meeting infuriated neighborhood activists. “At this point, your antics and attitude have given me the very clear impression that you’d rather call names and threaten litigation than work with the community,” Aaron Schuetz, a civic association leader, told Pratte in an email.
Pratte previously was the owner of the Falls Church-based Nova Firearms and the now-closed My Gun Factory in McLean.
Last week, a text message sent from a phone number associated with Nova Armory said that the store will specialize in “high-end skeet, trap and hunting shotguns . . . engraved shotguns that are works of art.”
Yet, the company’s website says the store will offer low-cost online gun sales. “Basically, if it has a trigger, we probably have it & we have it at the lowest possible price,” the site says.
It’s that kind of language that has alarmed the residents of Lyon Park, who note that the store would be across the street from a private day-care center that serves both school-age and younger children.
Supporters note that gun stores are legal in Virginia and that this one has all its required licenses and would be located near an active military base, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. The debate has also raged on competing “pro” and “anti” petitions online.
Karen Taylor Soiles, a physical therapist who rents space in the same three-story commercial building where Nova Armory intends to open, said her landlord and most other tenants are avoiding discussion about the shop, although it’s the prime topic at every neighborhood gathering.
“My patients have been voicing their concerns,” Soiles said. “My lease is up in May, and I don’t know what to do. . . . I wasn’t looking for this, but it came to my doorstep.”
Edwin McDermott, an Arlington gun owner who signed the supportive petition, said that “a legally operated shop like that provides a service to law enforcement personnel, the military and anyone who wants a gun for sport or protection.”
Modern society, McDermott said, wants “to prohibit a thing instead of control behavior. The Supreme Court has said over and over again, no right is absolute . . . but we’ve gotten to the point that any kind of negotiation is considered surrender.”
Correction: Earlier versions of this story described the Lyon Park Citizens Association as being “against” the opening of the NOVA Armory gun store. The association has taken no position on the store. The article has been corrected.