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Sunnyvale gun store opens near schools

By Solly Mirell | 7 Oct 2010

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U.S. Firearms became Sunnyvale’s first dedicated gun store in 20 years. It's less than a mile from two elementary schools.

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Last Saturday, U.S. Firearms became Sunnyvale’s first dedicated gun store in 20 years, drawing the ire of many nearby residents and parents.

The business, permitted under the city’s zoning codes, is less than a mile from two elementary schools and a preschool.  While the business owner began applying for permits in December, neighbors were caught off-guard — only discovering the store’s existence when the building’s marquee was unveiled three weeks ago.

In response, a contingent of concerned Sunnyvale parents and residents spoke before the City Council, expressing anxiety over the store’s proximity to heavily residential areas and schools.  Parents said they were worried about their children having to walk past the store on their way to and from school.

“I feel as if having [a gun store] in close proximity to many schools is a danger,”  Sunnyvale Elementary School teacher Gina Lermont told the City Council last week.  “I’m not sure if I want to educate my second graders on something like gun safety.”

Pooja Sampat, a Sunnyvale resident and mother of young children, questioned why the city planning commission had not instituted additional safeguards to separate a firearms business from residential areas.

“As a city council, would it be at all forgivable if somebody purchased a gun from there and walked down to one of the local elementary schools and shot?” an emotional Sampat said.

Councilman Ron Swegles was quick to point out that numerous safeguards exist, including a 10-day waiting period on gun purchases as well as local and federal background checks.

The principal of nearby Sunnyvale Christian School, Leanna Christie, said she believes many of the fears are overblown.

“Most parents don’t walk their kids past the store.  They drive them to school,” she said.

Although Sunnyvale Christian School is 100 yards down the street, Christie said she has relatively few reservations about the store’s opening.  “While we weren’t notified until the signs went up, we want to be good neighbors.  And honestly, people carry guns.  That’s just the reality.  We’re more concerned that there’s no crosswalk for the kids to get to school safely.”

In addition to its proximity to children, residents also said they were fearful such a store might attract thieves and people looking to purchase weapons to commit crimes.

U.S. Firearms owner and operator Eric Fisher said such concerns are unfounded and accused the media and the entertainment industry for having unfairly vilified the firearms industry. “From San Diego to Oakland, I have never experienced any violence in any of the stores I’ve worked at,” he said.

A public records check revealed no cases of a robbery of a Bay Area gun stores within the past five years.

Fisher has spent the past two decades working at firearms-related businesses, including 10 years as manager of Reed’s Indoor Range in Santa Clara. He said the businesses generally develop strong ties with local police departments.  He has provided gun-training courses to various police departments for the past eight years, Fisher said.

He said he hopes to open a dialogue with opponents of his new Sunnyvale store. “While I have the right to run my business, I want to use it to teach people that don’t have the capacity to defend themselves,” Fisher said.  “I want to take a personal interest in the community.”

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