Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


The gun dealer NOVA Armory, after an aborted lease in Cherrydale last year, will open a large weapons outlet on North Pershing Drive in Lyon Park.

The owner is offering free T-shirts to its first 100 visitors on March 26, a kind of shot across the bow, so to speak, at citizens and legislators who’ve organized to protest.

It’s a clash, of course, between Second Amendment enthusiasts and Arlington’s progressives. Both camps agree, however, that there’s no legal way to block the lease absent a landlord’s change of heart.

More than 3,600 names are now on a protest petition at Change.org. “In an era of ever-increasing gun violence,” it reads, “it is unconscionable to locate a gun shop anywhere in the vicinity of schools, both private and public, with young children in close proximity.”

How Arlington and the nation have changed. Before the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, before the National Rifle Association transformed from a gun-safety sportsman’s group to an intimidating lobby, before Arlington became less working-class, guns were visible routinely—in schools and shopping strips.

From the 1961 until 1999, Arlington’s public high schools had rifle teams whose members carried weapons to school and practiced on campus ranges. Jim Allen, a founding teacher at Yorktown and later its athletic director, recalls that when the school opened in 1961, rifle coach Bill Beals commented, “Who ever heard of a high school rifle team?”

Allen and fellow biology teacher Clarence Seldomridge (who also coached rifle) allowed students to store .22 caliber rifles in their classroom closet because it was right up a stairwell from the range. “No one thought anything of it,” he says.

The 1991 Yorktown yearbook—one of many showing the rifle team kneeling with weapons and padded coats– described that range as “deep beneath the Yorktown cafeteria.” Safety protocol was strictly followed, Allen says, though one time a rifle “kicked up” and put a bullet through a waterpipe. It required a police and fire fighter response, but nothing more.

One Yorktown student who loved the team was Ron Anglin, class of ’66. Back when he was around 10, Anglin’s father bought him a .22 rifle at Sports Fair in Cherrydale. The boy walked with his weapon to lessons at the Washington-Lee High School rifle range “underneath the bleachers.”

Once Anglin moved to Yorktown, it was Coach Beals who arranged for him an apprenticeship at Davis Gun Shop (7213 Lee Highway in Falls Church). Anglin would work for owner Fred Davis on and off for 10 years while attending college. “There were some robberies, but a gun shop is no different from a jewelry store or a bank, which get robbed,” Anglin told me. “It would not bother me to have a gun shop in the neighborhood.”

After Columbine, the Arlington School Board voted to end campus rifle practice. The Virginia code, schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos reports, prohibits weapons on school property.

All three high schools today offer rifle teams, however, and at least a half-dozen Arlington rifle students have recently gone on to compete at college level. The typically 10-member squads practice off-site using air rifles. Yorktowners travel to a range on a VFW post and Masonic lodge. Their female coach, Traci Yates, is an NRA Appointed Rifle Coach and NRA Certified Rifle Instructor.

In the community, the dispute goes on.

* * *

Lost my $600 smartphone. Last Friday afternoon. Somewhere between East Falls Church Metro and home.

Panicked. Retraced steps. Asked at Metro kiosk. Asked Girl Scouts from whom I bought cookies. Scoured sidewalks. Came home and reported loss online to Metro.

Consulted Apple’s Find My Phone app. Bingo. Green dot on GPS map at Sycamore and Lee Highway. Return and stared at ground, no luck. Asked stranger to dial my cell number. A ring! Together, B.J. Bailey and I walked toward the sound. Someone had placed the phone atop a wood fence. I pumped B.J.’s hand.

Three lessons: (1) don’t space out when carrying a $600 phone; 2) look at what’s there in front of you, not what you imagine; 3) thank Arlington’s good Samaritans.