MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Several community members came to Morgantown City Council to voice their opinions on a proposed downtown gun store.
The Protect Morgantown group is seeking signatures for a petition that would prevent Big Daddy Guns from opening a store at The Deck in downtown Morgantown.
The bridge is nearly complete and will also house a Starbucks and the potential for two other businesses. The company has successfully navigated the permitting process, but has yet to apply for a business license from the city.
Members of Protect Morgantown cite recent mass shootings and location. The bridge is about half a mile from Morgantown High School, near the WVU campus and across from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheater.
Protect Morgantown founder Jodi Hollingshead explained that the town does not have zoning codes regarding gun retailers and submitted a zone code text change for council consideration.
Hollingshead also cited the location relative to the town center entrance.
“Given the epidemic of mass shootings in our country, a bright orange sign that reads ‘Big Daddy Guns’ is not exactly how we want to greet anyone in town,” Hollingshead said. “Tourists, parents and WVU students or potential new businesses – this is going to be a huge deterrent.”
According to company spokesman Nick Lahera, in addition to firearms, ammunition and accessories, Big Daddy Guns also offers training, on-site training, education and concealed carry license courses. The company has at least six locations in the southern United States and plans to open more.
The platform is a subscription-based online service, but physical locations do not require membership.
“Our mission statement is very simple: to educate, motivate and activate Americans on and for the Second Amendment,” Lahera said.
The idea was developed in 2012 by Sherrie and Tony McKnight. The McKnights sought to change the gun retail experience by having open, welcoming locations with knowledgeable associates rather than some of the dark rural locations of the past. In 2015, the McKnights opened the first full-service gun store in Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida. Lahera said the stores are welcoming and the workers encourage people to do some research before deciding to buy a gun.
“We organize shooting days for them where we take them out, we teach them gun safety,” Lahera said. “We teach them different firearms and how to handle them properly.”
Co-founder Sherrie McKnight attended the meeting and explained that knives and other means of homicide account for more crimes in the country than those caused by firearms. McKnight also cited Morgantown’s commitment to inclusivity and hoped city officials would welcome them into the community to meet the needs of gun owners.
“Even one life lost is too many in wrongful circumstances,” McKnight said. “If you are seen as a threat by Big Daddy Guns, we should at least be clear on the facts and understand the root causes of violent crime.”
Lahera said the company hopes to change the perception of gun shops with their approach and location.
“What Tony always says is he wants them downtown because it breaks the stigma that comes with guns,” Lahera said.