Dennis R. Pratte II doesn’t want people to consider him the owner of Nova Armory, the Arlington gun store he plans to open later this month.
Pratte, 46, describes himself as a “supporter” of the business — albeit one who holds the federal firearms sales license, applied for and signed the certificate of occupancy and lives in the same McLean, Va., house where the registered owner of the business, Broadstone Security LLC, is based.
Nova Armory, Pratte says, is “a family owned and operated business — and more specifically a female, minority-owned business.” He won’t say whether he is referring to his wife, Yong OK Pratte, who is listed on paperwork as an officer for one of Pratte’s previous gun businesses, or his 16-year-old daughter Lauren, whom he has publicly described as Nova Armory’s “owner-in-training” and who was there the other day, along with her older brother Alex.
“I may or may not be the owner,” Pratte said coyly after a reporter showed up Tuesday at the 900-square-foot storefront at 2300 N. Pershing Dr. “Just say ‘Mr. Pratte declined to comment’.”
Such secrecy is not going over well among many residents of the surrounding Lyon Park neighborhood, who say they do not want a gun store in general and are particularly suspicious about who is behind this one.
“This lack of transparency goes to the heart of the really intense reactions that people are having,” said Natalie Roy, a 25-year resident. “It’s not like he’s selling teddy bears.”
Opposition to the gun store erupted as soon as residents became aware of its plans to open on a commercial block that includes restaurants, health-care providers, a construction company office and an Army recruitment center. There is a day-care facility serving preschoolers and older children across the street, and Joint Base Ft. Myer-Henderson Hall is a block away.
About 3,500 people — not all of them from Northern Virginia — have signed an online petition against the store over the past two weeks; nearly 2,000 have signed a competing petition in support. State lawmakers called on landlord Ekaterina V. Varley to withdraw the lease; in response, Nova Armory threatened to sue “local agitators,” including residents who expressed their opinions about the squabble on social media.
Members of the Lyon Park Citizens Association last week voted 264 to 16 to oppose the gun-store opening, with 21 people saying the association should not take a position. After several canceled meetings, Pratte and the neighborhood group’s executive board are scheduled to sit down together Monday.
Residents say they would oppose any gun business that sought to open in their neighborhood — a proposed store in Arlington’s Cherrydale section was defeated last year — but they are particularly incensed about various statements on Nova Armory’s website, which seem to change frequently and without explanation.
A line that boasted, “Basically, if it has a trigger, we probably have it & we have it at the lowest possible price,” was edited to say: “Basically, if your high-end firearm has a trigger, we probably have it & we have it at the lowest possible price.” The phrase “high-end” was later deleted. The site also no longer mentions plans to sell Class III firearms, which include machine guns, silencers, and short-barreled rifles and shotguns.
Pratte said Nova Armory will concentrate on rifles and shotguns used for sport or collectors, and will ask customers to park in back and use the rear entrance to the store so as not to attract attention. He said he will sell Class III firearms to government buyers and “local law-enforcement-type agencies,” but will not stock them in the store. Nova Armory will stock handguns, he said, but “We are not selling $100 Saturday night specials. Our low end will be about $1,000. This is meant to be an exclusive store.”
He did not directly answer questions about whether he would sell semiautomatic weapons such as assault rifles, instead describing the superior stopping power of a hunting rifle or shotgun. He also declined to answer questions about his military background, his employment record, and whether any non-relatives are business partners, citing his preference for privacy.
In a letter to her other tenants, Varley said Nova Armory has met all legal requirements to operate a gun store and will have military and law enforcement veterans working there.
Varley’s letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, says the store will be operated by “individuals with over 20-years of experience in the firearms industry . . . they have taken their past experiences to create a new, 1-of-a-kind, retail firearms store.”
She does not name the owners, but says their shop “will attract more customers to the area for our local businesses.”
Varley declined to speak to a reporter who came to the building on Friday afternoon.
Pratte has operated at least three other firearms businesses. A native of the St. Louis area, he started a trucking company and a vending-machine company before launching St. Louis Firearms in the mid-2000s. The business closed in 2007.
Three years later, Pratte opened Nova Firearms in Falls Church, announcing his arrival with a self-written column in the Falls Church News-Press. The store moved to several different locations in Falls Church and McLean before he sold it about two years ago. In the early hours of July 25, 2012, thieves broke into the store, then at 412 W. Broad St., and stole nine handguns. Only five have been recovered, Falls Church police say.
Later that year, with Congress weighing a ban on assault rifles after several mass shootings, Pratte was quoted in a CNN Money report as the owner of My Gun Factory, also in Falls Church. He said he was selling out of semiautomatic AR-15s as soon as they arrived. “Our phones are ringing every 10 seconds,” Pratte told CNN. “And people are saying, ‘Do you have any assault rifles?’ ”
My Gun Factory closed about two years ago, Pratte said.
From September 2000 until September 2014, Pratte also was employed by the Federal Aviation Administration, first as manager of the Part 135 Air Carrier Operations branch and later as a supervisory aviation technical system specialist. An FAA spokesman confirmed his employment.
The second-floor space where Nova Firearms used to operate is now the location of “The Gun Dude,” a cozy coffee shop and gun store that opened in 2015. The founder, Josh Karrasch, said he has never met Pratte, but had to do “a lot of re-education” for customers once he opened his business.
“We had to do a lot of rebranding,” Karrasch said, “creating responsible firearms training and improving customer service.”
At Pratte’s latest storefront, there was no inventory on the walls last week, just hardware above empty bookcases. Under exposed ducts, new light fixtures had been installed. A highly polished table took center stage. The smell of sawdust permeated the air as a worker drilled into the doorjamb of a side room that will hold the gun safe.
Pratte, who has already joined the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said he plans to add leather armchairs by the time the store opens. For now, white window blinds obscure the view into the shop.
The store’s website says sales will be by appointment only, but Pratte said his doors will be open to anyone who wants to ask questions or learn about firearms.
The store plans a grand opening at 9 a.m. on March 26, with appearances by Del. Richard L. Anderson (R-Prince William), and representatives from the National Rifle Association, the Virginia Citizens Defense League and National Shooting Sports Foundation, according to a notice on the website Sunday.
The notice urged supporters to turn out in large numbers, warning: “Sources have advised us that Anti-Gun protesters may be at our grand opening in force . . . doing their best to disrupt our festivities.”