Next week if all goes as planned South Whidbey residents looking for a rifle or handgun won’t have to go to Oak Harbor or the mainland.
Whidbey Arms is opening at Ken’s Korner Mall under the ownership of Freeland resident Jim Childers.
“We’ll be opening Wednesday or Thursday,” he said as workers pieced together display cases, furniture and the security system.
Marius Artis from Whidbey Telecom was wiring the security system, an essential item for a store that sells weapons.
“Very, very,” Artis answered when asked if the store would be secure. “There’s not a spot you can step without setting off a motion (detector).”
“Or from the ceiling,” added Childers, who’s ready for anything, even something like a Tom Cruise-like descent from the ceiling to grab a gun. With Childers’ system, even Cruise couldn’t escape unnoticed. Live cameras will record everything going on, day and night, and store the images at a separate location, making pulling off a successful burglary virtually a mission impossible.
In terms of timing, Childers could have done better than pick a period when the entire nation is caught up in an emotional gun control debate, but Childers is undaunted, anxious to move his online business indoors.
For the past year Whidbey Arms has been selling guns online. Purchasers have to go to a federally licensed firearms dealer to pick up their weapons. He’s also sold at gun shows in Monroe and Puyallup, but this is his first retail shop.
Whidbey Arms is located in the space recently vacated by Richard “Woody” Woodham, whose Workwear Jeans store had been a mall mainstay for a couple of decades. Right across the hallway is Island Drug.
The Record received a few emails and voice messages expressing concern about the shop. “I was less than thrilled by this news,” said one caller, Marianne Edain. She worried that the gun shop is in the same building as Skagit Valley College’s South Whidbey branch.
Childers said most people were curious but friendly as he was working Thursday. There was one angry woman who wouldn’t let him talk, repeating “Oh, my God!,” but there were no other issues, he said.
People were commenting on the new store at Island Drug, but not in a negative fashion, said Amanda Markle, a pharmacy assistant. “It’s nice not having it empty,” she said, describing comments customers had made. “We’ve only gotten positive feedback so far.”
Childers said an Island County Sheriff’s deputy stopped by to talk about security and gun sales regulations, and to warn him there could be a demonstration against the store. If so, Childers isn’t worried.
“Freedom’s the foundation of our democracy,” he said, describing his feelings about demonstrators. “I’ll have chairs, water, free coffee and welcome them to our shop. I’ll defend their rights to the death.”
Whidbey Arms will feature rifles, shotguns and handguns, including major brands and lesser known brands such as Rainier Arms and Windham. “There’s nothing cheap,” he said of the overall quality.
The closest thing he’ll have to a so-called assault weapon is the AR-15, a semi-automatic with a magazine that holds 30 bullets, caliber .223. He won’t be selling magazines with more than 30 bullets, calling that “overkill.”
People who buy such guns often use them to hunt coyotes in Eastern Washington or wild hogs in the south, he said.
The store will also offer non-lethal self defense devices such as pepper spray and Tasers, as well as an assortment of other stuff like metal wildlife art, shirts, hats, hoodies, camping gear and occasionally fishing gear, depending on the season.
Childers is well acquainted with all the laws governing firearms, including ages, waiting periods and background checks. An 18-year-old can buy a long gun, for example, but must wait until he or she is 21 to buy a handgun.
Education is also part of the job, as Childers sees it. “It’s all about security,” he said. “Being comfortable with the weapon, taking care of it.” He said he’s turned away buyers who look like they shouldn’t possess a weapon.
The only person who can purchase a handgun and immediately walk out with it is one who already has a concealed weapon permit, he added. Those are obtained through the Sheriff’s Office. Others will have to wait until their background is checked and cleared.