Nova Armory controversy

Logo for Nova Armory, whose planned opening in Arlington has generated some community opposition.

Arlington officials say that despite their personal beliefs, they are hamstrung by state and federal law from taking steps to prevent a proposed gun shop from opening on Pershing Drive.

“If I had the authority to do something, I would,” County Board Vice Chairman Jay Fisette (D) said after opponents of the Nova Armory descended on the March 12 board meeting to express their anger to elected officials and staff.

Those critics came away with a sympathetic hearing, but little in the way of promises.

Local governments across Virginia are limited by the state legislature, which “has gone out of its way” to strip local authority on gun issues, County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac noted.

“We are at the mercy of the General Assembly, and to some degree, the Congress,” said MacIsaac, who added that local governments have no more power to regulate establishment of gun shops than they do comic-book shops.

Opponents, however, were not letting Arlington officials off the hook. Emily Hughes, one of the leaders in the effort to stop Nova  Armory, said “the County Board failed us.”

“It could have, and arguably should have, let us know” that the store was planning to open, Hughes said.

But even that contention was parried by at least one elected official.

County Board member Christian Dorsey suggested it would “not have been prudent” for the government to publicize the building-permit application for the gun shop in a way that it doesn’t do for any other business.

Doing so “could have exposed us to some issues,” Dorsey said.

MacIsaac suggested that the public could attempt to put pressure on state lawmakers – “the General Assembly needs to enable local governments to do more” – but given the strong pro-rights tilt of the legislature, that seems unlikely to have much effect, at least in the short term.

Unless change comes at the state level, “We have to follow the law, and the law limits us quite a bit,” said County Board Chairman Libby Garvey (D)

The other option, county officials said, was for the public to put pressure on the store owner and landlord, as was the case when gun shops were planned for the Cherrydale and Nauck neighborhoods.