Local gun store NOVA Firearms re-entered Falls Church last month, taking over the lease of former gun store, the Gun Dude Cafe, at its site above Bedo’s Leatherworks.
City residents are likely somewhat acquainted with the returning store — the business was previously in the same location it is now before relocating to McLean in 2013. In addition, NOVA Firearms also had a short stint in Falls Church proper when it opened amid controversy across the street from St. James School on West Broad St. in February 2016 before closing just two months later.
Back then the establishment suffered from some internal conflict when one of its investors had a different vision for a gun store’s role in the community, according to co-owner Rachel Dresser. When a wind storm caused a patio umbrella from Einstein Bros. Bagels’ to cut loose and break store windows, ownership determined it wasn’t the right time to set up shop in Falls Church.
Now roughly a year and a half later, NOVA Firearms has returned under new management, though that wasn’t planned either. With a Republican president, the gun industry cooled and caused NOVA to downsize. A new landlord was ready to bring them onboard in McLean, but a Facebook post erroneously accused co-owner JB Gates of participating in August’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and gave the landlord cold feet.
Fortunately, the Gun Dude was closing up shop and owner Joshua Karrasch offered to pass the baton off to Dresser and Gates for their second stay in Falls Church.
“We weren’t aware of the nature of Falls Church and how close everything was,” Dresser said. “It was after we sat down and talked with [Karrasch] and let him know we didn’t mean to step on his toes with our business [back in 2016]. That led to [Karrasch] being hugely helpful with us. We wouldn’t have made it through that four-week period of no business if not for him.”
City of Falls Church Chief of Police Mary Gavin believes that Karrasch put forth a good template for the NOVA owners to follow. The openness the Gun Dude possessed about discussing gun ownership along with the infrastructure such as gun cages in the store’s back helped insure there’d be less overhead costs for NOVA.
NOVA is looking to take that a step further and introduce themselves to the City’s elected officials during the public comment section at a City Council meeting in the near future. The store also received a big leg-up from Bedo’s familiarity with the business.
“He wasn’t afraid of the industry,” Dresser continued. “He knows the regulations, and that we have the cages and the security. We understand we’re a target…We’re a desirable [entity] with high regulations so people who think we don’t meet those regulations will try to come after us.”
Bedo’s being accustomed to the gun industry is important for NOVA to land its lease, but it doesn’t mean that residents are willing to greet them with that same acceptance.
“They should change their name. [Former owner] Dennis Pratt had a bad reputation,” Carol Luten said. Luten, a Falls Church resident, is a local anti-gun violence advocate who stages monthly vigils outside the National Rifle Association’s Fairfax office while also pushing legislation that would restrict access to gear such as suppressors and assault rifles. “They should also consider having a softer marketing touch for Falls Church. A sign that has a bullet in it is not welcoming,” she said.
Luten added that she thinks the store should conduct universal background checks (which are required for federally licensed firearms dealers) as well as provide training with gun purchases.
One final area of concern is the sale of bump-fire stock attachments, that gained both notoriety and popularity following the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The attachment, which allow legal semi-automatic gunfire to mimic illegal fully automatic gunfire, are also not a part of the store’s inventory and never have been due to a lack of interest in local gun owners.
For now, the focus for NOVA is about fostering a connection with the community and increasing awareness about gun facts to ease any possible tension. Luten believes that hosting a joint forum between her group of advocates and the owners of NOVA can provide an opportunity for locals to do just that.