Gun store posters take flak
By Geoffrey Cooper
Rocky Mount Telegram
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
NASHVILLE — For more than a week, a local gun shop owner has been under scrutiny regarding certain advertisements outside his front door.
Nashville Guns owner Dennis Nielsen has been met with the watchful eyes of a few county officials and town residents for the storefront posters of women holding guns. Facing two documented complaints, Nielsen maintains that he has done nothing wrong and runs a clean business.
Facing the Washington Street sidewalks are two posters inside of Nielsen’s gun shop windows. The first poster shows a model with blond-streaked hair in a black dress holding an AR-15 rifle, with the second picture of the same model holding a .357 magnum pistol. Inside his shop, similar posters are attached to the walls, showing the same model holding different weapons.
“It would be one thing if there were 100 resident complaints, but that isn’t the case,” Nielsen said. “But still, that’s enough for the county to have a gross overreaction. It’s uncalled for personally.”
This is not the first time Nielsen has disagreed with the county. He filed a lawsuit against the county in 2005 because copy costs the county was charging for public records did not comply with state law. The county settled the suit out of court.
Nielsen began a lease agreement with Nash County in August to rent the property until September 2010. He opened the gun shop on Washington Street in mid-September.
While the store features other male-oriented themes, Nielsen said the overall design concept, including the posters, was devised by his wife and two daughters. He said the posters were not meant to disrupt personal beliefs, but to attract customers.
“When you have to sell a Corvette, do you think they are going to use a 50-year-old guy?” Nielsen asked. “I want to be sure I’m not insensitive to family values, but I got a business to run. I’m open to criticism if residents have it.”
Since the complaints started, Nielsen said he has sought opinions from other merchants. When asked about the tastefulness of Nielsen’s posters, many downtown merchants said either they were oblivious to them or did not have an opinion.
Nielsen said he began to hear the first batch of poster complaints on Oct. 9 from a Nashville resident, who first visited town officials to discuss the posters’ content. But town officials verified Nielsen was in compliance with all zoning and sign ordinance laws and requirements for Nashville.
Later that day, Nielsen said the resident contacted Nash County Manager Bob Murphy to express her discomfort with the advertisement. Within a few minutes of the complaint, Nielsen said Murphy and Assistant County Manager Wayne Moore appeared at his shop, asking him to cooperate and remove the posters – but Nielson refused.
Murphy told Nielsen a resident was bothered by the idea of a woman brandishing a gun.
In a phone interview, Murphy said he reminded Nielsen during their conversation that he rents from the county and did not want his actions to become a nuisance to the public. He also said Nielsen’s decision will not affect his chances of a lease renewal.
Another Nashville resident said she feels Nielsen’s business does not belong downtown because it does not coincide with the town’s renovation efforts and would taint its overall image.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate, and it’s not an image that downtown Nashville should be portraying,” said Dawn White, a Nashville resident.
In an Oct. 12 email sent to Commissioner Danny Tyson, White stated that “... the gun shop and the bar in the downtown area are black eyes for the quaintness of the downtown area,” and that it should not belong downtown, regardless if the posters are up or not.
“Sure, the right to bear arms is an individual choice,” White said. “But that’s not a choice I’m willing to agree with.”
Nash County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robbie Davis said he was contacted about the situation during the weekend of Murphy’s visit. Eventually, Davis said, no provisions could be found in Nielsen’s lease that could prevent him from placing that type of advertisement up – and that the county is dropping the matter altogether.
“It’s strictly a request, and that’s as far as we are going to take it,” Davis said.
After looking at the posters, Davis said he was not personally offended but could understand why some residents would be put off by it.
“Anytime (commissioners) get a complaint of any kind, we want to see if there is any truth to it,” Davis said. “But there’s nothing more we will do at this point in time.”