At a meeting of the College Area Community Council on Wednesday, May 28, local residents expressed concern over a soon-to-open gun store coming to College Square Shopping Center adjacent to Ventura College and two preschools.
The Red Seal Arms store in the former location of Unique Boutique on Ashwood Street will open despite community protest, within proximity of several schools and residences, a point made by many of the 40 in attendance.
Council President Steve Cummings read an email from Community Development Director Jeff Lambert, who could not be in attendance. Lambert says that gun sales are considered retail use and that there are “no restrictions in zoning beyond general retail.” Lambert goes on to say that “The gun shop has a business license and that is really all they need to operate in Ventura.”
“Every seven weeks, 4,400 people are killed by guns,” said resident Stephen Svete, who suggested writing a letter to the City Council on adopting strong restrictions for future gun retail stores. “That’s the same as the total number killed in Afghanistan. Every seven weeks.”
Anastasia Poland expressed frustration over the shopping center’s decline as a symbol of the neighborhood.
“How do we as a neighborhood help revitalize this area?” said Poland. “Is it because the landlord doesn’t care? I would patronize the square but there’s nothing to patronize.”
Cmdr. Mark Stadler of the Ventura Police Department would not comment on whether or not having the gun store in the community was a good or bad idea, but said that he hadn’t noticed an increase in crime near or around any licensed retail gun stores in the city.
The Red Seal Arms Store will be owned and operated by the same owner as the adjacent Royal Smokes, which sits next to a massage business. Next door is a CVS pharmacy and a branch of Community Memorial Hospital (CMH), which as pointed out by several in attendance at Monday’s meeting of the City Council.
Royal Cigar Smoke Shop owner Tony Alnader says he is frustrated at the backlash after announcing the opening of his gun retail store. Alnader says that California is the strictest state when it comes to gun control laws and his retail store will be run with every precaution taken.
Alnader, a gun enthusiast, says that customers will need to follow California guidelines, which include a Livescan criminal history check, a 10-day waiting period and restrictions on magazines and the size of assault rifles. Magazines can only hold a maximum of 10 bullets.
The guns on display at Red Seal Arms will also be locked with a mechanism that would disable the weapon if it were not first removed by an employee of the store. The door will be locked continuously and customers will only be allowed in by the employees, meaning no come-and-go shopping. The employees themselves will be armed in case of an emergency situation, says Alnader.
“I heard the people and I understand, but their idea of a gun shop is totally way beyond what we’re doing,” said Alnader. “They’re making it sound way too easy to grab a gun and go. A lot of money goes into this stuff just to prevent that stuff from happening.”
Alnader says that he expects most of his customers will be hunters who make use of the Rose Valley and Piru hunting areas.
Five members of the College Area Community Council attended the City Council meeting on Monday to make comments in support of future regulations regarding new gun retail stores.
Svete addressed the council and made two points: one, to reiterate the idea shared by others in attendance to draft an ordinance so that “neighborhoods can be protected from neighborhood-unfriendly uses without further review”; and the other, to convene a task force consisting of business owners, church leaders and day-care providers to discuss perhaps redrafting zoning requirements.
Mayor Cheryl Heitmann says that, along with Councilwoman Christy Weir, she will be bringing forward ideas in the coming weeks on how to restructure ordinances on gun retail stores.
Before conclusion of public comment, former Mayor and Councilman Mike Tracy asked Svete a direct question.
“Are you aware of any specific incidences or crimes anywhere in the country where someone went into a gun shop, bought a gun and then immediately went out and committed a crime?” asked Tracy.
“I’m not aware of that,” said Svete, who added that further research would be required. Svete went on to say that the proximity of the store to the neighboring facility, where psychiatric patients are treated, however, is of concern to the community.
Alnader says that he has had to go through seven months’ worth of paperwork, training and qualifications to open the store.
“We are going to be teaching people, to make sure you know what you’re doing and to make sure this is what you need,” said Alnader. “I don’t know how we can get any stricter than that to prevent whatever they want to prevent.”
Alnader went on to note that during the Isla Vista attack, Elliot Rodger stabbed his first three victims.