The anti-gun culture wars come to... West Virginia?

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

A few months ago, I wrote about the backlash to a gun store opening up in a Boston suburb, which ultimately led to the town council revoking its approval and passing new zoning laws limiting where firearms retailers could open. Other suburbs followed suit, even though they didn’t have any gun stores operating inside the city limits, and the moral panic was over the legal sale of guns was both eye-opening and depressing to witness. Still, this was liberal Massachusetts. We wouldn’t see anything like this in a red state, right?

Wrong.

As it turns out, the big topic of conversation at the Morgantown, West Virginia city council meeting on Tuesday night was the opening of a brand new gun store in the college town’s downtown business district, and if I didn’t know better I would swear that some of the anti-gun scolds from Massachusetts had resettled over the past few months in one of the reddest states in the nation because the arguments against the gun store were so similar.

Jodi Hollingshead, leader of the Protect Morgantown Initiative, urged those in attendance to support a zone code amendment which would include additional consideration and regulations for gun sales in the community.

“It is apparent that Big Daddy’s company culture is dangerous to our community,” Hollingshead said. “We don’t need the types of firearms that they sell to be available downtown.”

Morgantown currently has no zoning laws that prohibit a gun retailer from opening, but Hollingshead said her organization has submitted a code text change to the city’s planning commission.

Protect Morgantown has gained hundreds of followers in recent days and has over a thousand signatures on a petition to prevent Big Daddy from opening downtown.

She said Big Daddy Guns would be located across from Hazel Ruby McQuain Park, one block from the courthouse (and courthouse square), half a mile from Morgantown High School and less than a mile from almost 20 churches.

And? My nearest gun shop is located less than a block away from the county courthouse, almost next door to two churches and just down the block from a third, and is located just a block or so away from a public university. Do you know how many issues they’ve had with people buying a gun and then immediately using it to commit a violent crime after they walk out the door? If you guessed zero, you nailed it.

But guns are icky to folks like Hollingshead, who I’m sure would love to see the space where Big Daddy’s Guns will operate turned into a meadery or a tapas restaurant instead of a firearms retailer.

Look, Morgantown is home to West Virginia University, which means that it’s a pretty liberal town (though one that also has one of the top collegiate shooting programs in the country). City council members have taken anti-gun steps in the past, including in 2017 when now-mayor Jenny Selin and three of the other six council members voted to ban guns in municipal buildings and all city-owned property.

More than a dozen people used public portions of Tuesday’s meeting to share their approval or disapproval of council’s action.  Four of 14 appeared to favor a city gun ban.

One Dayton Street resident spoke before campus.  “What is improved by allowing weapons in? We have (police) to handle extraordinary services.  Law is better left to the professionals,” she said.

Councilman Nugent, opposing the ban, moved to amend that the effective date of the ordinance be postponed until physical security measures are in place at municipal buildings “to protect employees and the public in accordance to recommendations from the city police chief and (former interim) city manager.”

After a second from Councilman Bane, the body voted 4-3 against Nugent’s amendment.

Councilwoman Ganz, backing up her dissenting vote on that matter, said “I think it’s a valid long term goal .  I think it’s a separate issue.”

She is “proud to be on a council willing to be sued to protect (Morgantown),” Ganz said later.

What’s different now is that the opposition to the opening of a gun store at least appears to be driven more by community activists than city council members. Heck, five years ago there were only four residents willing to speak up in favor of banning guns from city property, but it sounds like there were a lot more than that hoping to ban a gun store from opening up in a privately owned building during Tuesday’s meeting.

Three WVU students took to the spoke out about the gun store as well. One said he was in support of the gun store, while the other two expressed concerns about the store’s nearness to campus and the types of weapons that would be sold.

Most residents who spoke at the meeting were concerned about the location of Big Daddy Guns in Morgantown.

Some residents even expressed that they themselves own guns and visit the shooting range, but, however, they do not support this particular store for various reasons pertaining to the organization’s message portrayed on social media.

Anitra Hamilton, President of the NAACP Morgantown/Kingwood, also spoke at the meeting.

“I believe that timing is everything. Timing of what we allow in this city, timing of how we address issues in this city.”

She explained that many of those speaking out against Big Daddy Guns are not against having gun stores in Morgantown, but rather they are against having another gun store put in Morgantown in light of the recent mass shooting epidemic in America.

It just gets worse, doesn’t it? They don’t like the guns Big Daddy Guns want to sell, and they don’t like what the company has to say, either, though the most “offensive” comment that was cited in the local paper sounds pretty innocuous to me.

Delegate Evan Hansen expressed support for the new guns store opening downtown, but raised concern over the messages displayed on Big Daddy’s website and social media pages.

One message Hansen referenced from the website says, “In the turbulent times we are living in, the right to keep and bear arms is questioned every day. The left continually infringes on our constitutional rights and shapes the narrative to fit their agenda.”

“I think that these types of statements are unfair,” Hansen said. “I think they’re inflammatory and divisive.”

I can understand why one of the few Democrats in the state legislature (Hansen is one of just 22 Dems in the 100-member state House) might find that “inflammatory and divisive,” but that’s no cause to keep Big Daddy Guns out of downtown. And to his credit, Hansen wasn’t apparently calling for that. He just wanted to try to shame them, I suppose. He should actually try talking to the folks for Big Daddy and ask them to explain why they feel that way instead of just calling the statement unfair, but that might be a little too uncomfortable a conversation for the Democrat.

At the moment, Big Daddy Guns is still on track to open downtown, but with activists looking to introduce a new zoning law requiring gun stores to undergo additional scrutiny and approvals the store’s launch could still be derailed.

Even in the reddest of red states gun control activists are feeling empowered and emboldened right now, draped in a cloak of self-righteousness and intent on protecting children by making it illegal (or at least more inconvenient) to exercise your right to keep and bear arms or even buy one. As 2A activists, we might be used to writing or calling our state and federal officials, but we shouldn’t neglect what’s going on at the local level either. The gun control lobby is looking to enact their agenda wherever they can, and if they’re showing up at city council and school board meetings, we need to be there too.