Jun. 19—A Florida-based business planning on moving into a new development called "The Deck " at 1050 University Ave. between Kirk Street and Moreland Street in downtown Morgantown is causing some controversy among area residents.
The retailer in question, Big Daddy Guns, is the retail side of Big Daddy Unlimited, an online members-only wholesaler. Big Daddy Public Relations Coordinator Nicholas Lahera said the retail locations do not require membership.
Lahera said owners Tony and Sherrie McKnight made it their mission to educate people about the Second Amendment and provide them with the things that they need to protect themselves, protect their families and protect their communities.
According to Lahera the retailer sells "essentially anything that you can legally purchase, we try to maintain a good stock on — including shotgun shotguns, rifles, pistols, revolvers, every standard gun that you can find, all the ammo types and we have really good relationships with the accessories part of the industry."
A group called Protect Morgantown has been formed by a growing number of local residents who are unhappy about the arms dealer moving into downtown Morgantown. They plan to do everything in their power to stop its opening.
A change.org petition started by the group had over 600 signatures as of Friday afternoon and the group's Instagram page has gained over 220 followers in just a few days.
Protect Morgantown organizer Jodi Hollingshead is a local small business owner and mother who lives within walking distance of where Big Daddy would be located.
"It seemed like a lot of people were upset about it, but nobody was doing anything, " she said. "Even though I've ever done anything like this before, someone had to, so I did. I'm lucky enough to have the time and resources to do so."
Hollingshead said it is important to know the group is not trying to stop the sale of guns or close any current gun retailers in the area. However, they do feel this particular gun retailer is concerning for a few reasons.
"One, the location. I think it's a pretty poor location for any retailer. It is literally one of the first things you see as you drive into Morgantown, " she said. "So from a cultural standpoint and a community standpoint, I think a majority of Morgantown doesn't really want to be represented that way. It's not the town we imagine — it's not the vibe at all."
Hollingshead said the location is also a concern because it is relatively close to Morgantown High School, the West Virginia University campus, the rail trail and Hazel Ruby McQuain Park.
"We obviously don't want the types of weapons they sell being downtown either, " she said.
Logan Williams, property manager of The Deck and associate corporate counsel / director of lease negotiation and administration for developer Hardy World, LLC, said the developer did not have any comment on the group's concerns about their potential tenant.
In addition to the location, the Protect Morgantown organizer said the group is concerned by the way Big Daddy Unlimited presents itself to the community, based on what they have seen and read about the retailer.
"Big Daddy posted an update on their website, just like a temporary banner kind of thing, a couple of days after the Uvalde shooting. And instead of taking a responsible gun owner's standpoint — maybe, I don't know, expressing condolences — they really doubled down, " Hollingshead said. "And their message was, in summary — we stand by our rights. For that to be your statement after such a devastating event is pretty ludicrous."
Hollingshead also mentioned one of the retailer's memberships is named after Alex Jones, the controversial far-right radio show host.
"The fact that Alex Jones seems to be touted as somewhat of a hero to this business is super troubling, " she said.
Lahera said skeptics should know that Big Daddy Guns and Big Daddy Unlimited "believe in a sense of community. We always like to and assimilate to the cultures that are around us. We like to educate, motivate and activate Americans about the Second Amendment which is the whole purpose behind the store."
Lahera added, "And so you know, I just want to be very clear, that we are coming in with the most wholesome intentions of allowing people to protect themselves, protect their families, and protect their community against threats."
When the retailer will be moving into the space is still up in the air. Lahera said they are still early in the process and don't have a definite opening date.
In the meantime, Protect Morgantown is working several paths to prevent the gun retailer from opening, including proposing zoning changes and attending the upcoming Morgantown City Council meeting on June 21.
"We're really hoping to make a pretty decent showing at the city council meeting, " Hollingshead said. "We do have some zoning code changes in the works and so we're hoping to really show out at this meeting and show the city council how serious we are."
The Dominion Post asked for comment from city officials about the group's concerns and plans to protest the business.
"The contractor who is building out the space for the tenant has applied for a building permit through the city, " City of Morgantown Director of Communications Andrew Stacy said. "They went through the same process used to review and approve building permit applications in the city as any other applicant.
"The business itself has not yet applied for a business license, " he said.
Hollingshead said the group is aware not everyone in the area is opposed to the store, but she encourages them to look into Big Daddy Unlimited as a company while there is time to prevent their opening.
"I really do believe that there are responsible gun owners, " Hollingshead said. "I think that there are responsible gun owners in the area who would be opposed to it if they looked into who Big Daddy Unlimited is and the way they conduct themselves."