Critics question gun store following Las Vegas tragedy

The massacre in Las Vegas has put a Clinton business in the crosshairs of a national debate.

South Whidbey Arms announced on Facebook Wednesday that since the tragedy it had been repeatedly harassed by people who want either the business to limit its inventory or simply to close altogether. Some expressed their thoughts through phone calls, others with their fingers as they passed by the store’s front doors.

“They’ve shouted at us, flipped us off and said we’re selling weapons of war, which isn’t true,” business owner Craig Justus said.

One woman even slipped a note written in lipstick under the door with a message suggesting where the business should put its guns.

Justus said the store has always been the subject of criticism, that he hires “primarily veterans” making for a staff with pretty thick skin. The business and its staff support the First Amendment — the right to free speech — but the note went too far and was reported to the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

According to Detective Ed Wallace, a department spokesman, the note could be interpreted as threatening considering the context and the manner in which is was written, but it’s likely not enough to justify charges.

“It could be borderline harassment but it’d be a real stretch for that,” Wallace said.

While the intent may not have been to cause fear, some responding to the store’s Facebook post noted that lobbing insults and bullying the business is ironic considering the topic. Justus also noted that the message was written on material taken from a wall nearby.

“They stole someone’s ad off the bulletin board to write the note,” he said.

The business has good security and the woman was subsequently identified and banned from the store.

Justus said he would have preferred that she instead come in and speak with him directly. It would have given him the chance to talk about the Second Amendment — people’s right to keep and bear arms. Justus acknowledged gun rights versus gun control is a hot topic at the moment, but wished critics would educate themselves more thoroughly before taking action, he said.

“It seems like so frequently people only respond with their anger and emotions,” he said.

The shooting in Las Vegas this past weekend was the latest and among the worst mass shootings in United States history. Stephen Paddock, a Nevada resident, holed up in a 32nd floor hotel room with about two dozen guns and then opened fire on a crowded concert across the street.

He killed 58 people and injured hundreds more.

The shooting has fueled a national discussion about the need for stricter control laws, a controversial and divisive topic that many contend has paralyzed Congress. Recent past discussions have focused around AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, a firearm that’s been used in other mass shootings. It’s a legally sold civilian variant of the fully-automatic gun used by United State’s military for decades.

This time the topic seems focused on “bump stocks,” a device that modifies single-fire rifles like the civilian AR-15 into a much faster firing weapon, one nearly equivalent to the rate of fire of its military big brother.

Paddock had both in his arsenal in the hotel room.

Justus said many of the people who called started out friendly but were just fishing to find out whether he sells the same items, which he described as somewhat “irritating and insulting.” He says the store does carry AR-15s but does not offer bump stocks. He called it a “junk product” that’s a danger to the user.

“We’ve never sold them here because they’re unsafe plastic crap,” he said.

According to Wallace, fully automatic weapons are illegal in the United States, though some can apply for a special class three license but they are exceedingly difficult to get. He also pointed out that bump stocks are not illegal because they only speed up the rate of trigger pull using mechanical advantage from the recoil.

“As weird as it sounds, by the definition of the law, a bump stock doesn’t make it automatic,” Wallace said.

“It’s still a single pull, a single bullet,” he said.

Not all the response has been negative. The store received lots of positive feedback from its Facebook post, with some expressing empathy and urging the owners to “stand tall.” Justus said it was appreciated.

The gun debate is a complicated issue, Justus said, and he reiterated that he’s willing to discuss the matter calmly with anyone. He added that the store gives away free pocket-size constitutions and American flag stickers.