(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Members of the media were denied access to a Lyon Park community meeting about the controversial plan to open a gun shop in the neighborhood Sunday night.
The meeting was attended by County Board Chair Libby Garvey, Vice Chair Jay Fisette, County Manager Mark Schwartz, Police Chief Jay Farr and Del. Patrick Hope. The owner of the planned gun store at 2300 N. Pershing Drive, Nova Armory, was reportedly out of town and unable to attend.
An ARLnow.com reporter who tried to attend the event, at the privately-owned Lyon Park Community Center, was not allowed in the building. A community member shut the door when the reporter tried to ask about the prohibition on media. Those working the door at the event checked IDs and only allowed Lyon Park and Ashton Heights residents inside.
A short time after seeking access, the reporter and almost a dozen other non-community members — an Arlington resident who runs an anti-gun-store Facebook page and several members of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League — were removed from the Lyon Park property by police upon a neighborhood representative’s request.
Initially, on Friday, the meeting was advertised as a public County Board meeting, as required by law when a majority of the County Board is planning to attend. On Saturday, that public notice was rescinded.
“Notice is hearby given that the County Board of Arlington County, Virginia, will NOT meet on Sunday, February 28, 2016 in the Lyon Park Community Center, 414 North Fillmore Street., at 7:00 P.M. or as soon thereafter for the purpose of attending a Lyon Park Community meeting to discuss NOVA Armory’s plans to open a firearms store at 2300 Pershing Dr,” the public notice read.
ARLnow.com reached out to the elected officials who attended the meeting, asking about what was discussed, but thus far none has responded on the record. On Friday, Arlington County issued a statement saying that due to state law, the county “does not have the authority to prohibit these sales or businesses.”
(Also in attendance at the meeting: Lyon Park resident, Planning Commission member and Democratic County Board challenger Erik Gutshall, who has said he’s “deeply concerned” with plans for the store.)
John Goldener, president of the Lyon Park Citizens Association, spoke to ARLnow.com after the meeting, which ran from 7-9 p.m. and was attended by about 140 residents, he said.
Goldener declined to provide details about the discussion, saying that the civic association purposely excluded outsiders because the meeting was intended to be a safe space for community members to discuss the gun store.
“All I can tell you is what the meeting was about,” Goldener said. “This was an opportunity for people in the community to have a safe, civil discussion.”
“The civic association’s role here is to be a facilitator,” Goldener added. “We don’t take a stance on this particular issue.”
On a night in which the local investigative journalism drama Spotlight later won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Goldener said he has “tremendous respect” for local news outlets, but the community was worried about “people coming from out of the area, with their agendas.”
“It’s no secret that this country is overdue for having a frank conversation about guns,” he said. “This meeting in Lyon Park was not the venue for that.”
A second community meeting, this time with the owner of Nova Armory, is planned for March 7, said Goldener.
Nova Armory itself has been somewhat secretive since ARLnow.com first reported on its planned March opening. On its website and in a phone announcement, the store initially advertised itself as having the largest firearm selection and the lowest prices in the D.C. area. The website has since been updated twice and now, as of Monday afternoon, touts having “the latest firearms for all your skeet, trap, sporting arms, outdoors, and self-defense needs.”
Last week, an unidentified store representative texted the Washington Post, saying the store will focus on “custom engraved shotguns that are fine works of art,” and is “not interested in firearms that attract the wrong clientele.”
An online petition launched against the gun store now has more than 2,800 supporters. A petition in support of the gun store has more than 400 supporters.
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