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Ken Scott sells guns. His shop, Article II, is located on the second floor above a Silver Spring dry cleaner. As a teenager, Scott used to target-shoot with other members of Boy Scout Troop 209 in the basement of the old Montgomery Blair High School, which closed last year. Now he deals firearms within shooting range of the new one, teaching his own lesson about guns simply by being there.
Scott figures, rightly, that some local parents wish he weren’t selling weapons so close to the kids’ classrooms. But the law is on his side, and he knows it. “There are my permits,” Scott says, pointing to papers posted at the entrance to his store. “Everything’s in order.”
A friendly guy even with inquisitive strangers, Scott fell in love with firearms at 3 years old, when his dad gave him his first cap gun. Now 40-something, he’s been a gun dealer for essentially all his adult life. He won’t argue that firearms are warm and fuzzy things. He knows better. Eighteen years ago, his brother committed suicide with one of Scott’s .45s. “I didn’t even know he had my gun,” Scott says.
But he will argue for their legality. Scott originally called his operation Ken’s Sporting Goods, but he changed the name to Article II not long after his brother’s death. He did it as a show of support for the current interpretation of the Second Amendment, which allows most Americans the right to bear most firearms. He says with apparent sincerity that he means no harm. He’s just trying to make a living.
Scott moved Article II to its current location in March 1996. At the time, he says he wasn’t sure if the county would actually build a school right up the street, because the site for the relocated Blair High School was still subject to change. As it turned out, the county did pick the neighborhood, known as Four Corners. After $54 million worth of construction, the new Blair’s doors opened up in September. Scott estimates he’s “about 400” yards from the high school’s front doors.
That distance may be reachable by some of his better weapons, but it’s outside the 100-yard limit that zoning officials look at when issuing gun dealing permits.
It’s been pretty much business as usual with Blair and its 2,800 students there, Scott says. No students are Article II customers, though some have shown interest. “I’ve had a few kids walk into my shop wanting to look around,” he says. “But as soon as they come in, I ask how old they are, and if they’re not 21, I tell them to leave and come back with an adult. That’s the law, and I obey it. I don’t want any trouble.” After hours, all of Article II’s gun inventory is locked away in large safes that no kid could break into. So, Scott says, safety isn’t an issue.
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No matter what or how many precautions Scott takes, he knows that some homeowners in the area wouldn’t mind if Article II went into Chapter 11 or otherwise disappeared from the Blair neighborhood. Last year’s spate of schoolyard shootings around the U.S. didn’t do anything to help the establishment’s standing in the community.
“I’ve always been all for small businesses and the rights of small-business men, and I have no reason to suspect that that shop is not a legitimate business,” says Stacey Gurian-Sherman, a parent who lives in the Blair Cluster, the feeder neighborhood for the school, and is active in the local PTA. “But I’ve reached a point where I’m uncomfortable with having a gun shop so close to the school. I mean, when my own 9-year-old daughter reads the newspapers and tells me that none of these school shootings would have happened if these kids didn’t have access to guns, that makes me think that maybe you shouldn’t be exposing kids to guns. I don’t know what message it sends to the kids here if they can walk out of school and see a gun shop just down the street.”
Gurian-Sherman says she would like the county to work with the Article II owner to “just relocate him somewhere.”
Jay Callahan, the father of two school-aged children and another Blair Cluster resident, was appalled to learn of the gun shop’s presence so close to the new Blair. He wonders how the same scenario would play out in a more moneyed section of his prosperous county. “I’d love to see somebody try to run a gun shop near Whitman,” Callahan says, referring to Bethesda’s tony high school. “That would go over real well.”
To make his point against the gun shop, Callahan offers what he considers a neat little example: When he’s in the mood for a sandwich and a soft drink, he says, he sometimes pops over to Santucci’s Italian Deli, an eatery with which Article II shares the intersection of University Boulevard and Colesville Road. Like Scott, deli owner Carlos Santucci chose the spot because he liked the heavy traffic that passes by on both thoroughfares.
Like any good businessman, Santucci would like to expand his business. But to make any expansion economically viable, he would have to add beer and wine to his menu, which would require a new license. In Montgomery County, however, alcohol sales are forbidden within 100 yards of a church, and Santucci’s place comes a little too close to a house of worship, on the other side of Colesville Road in that same crossroads. The fact that Blair is right down the street doesn’t help matters, either.
“They said I’m about 10 feet too close,” says Santucci. “And unless I move, then don’t even bother applying. That’s the law.”
Scott had no such trouble getting his own store’s permits. Of course, Article II is different from what an expanded Santucci’s would be. It doesn’t sell wine; it only sells guns.
When told about Santucci’s permitting difficulties, Scott isn’t surprised. In fact, he says he’s had some paperwork problems of his own. Currently, Article II is registered only for rifle and ammunition sales. He keeps pistols on the premises, including one in his pocket, but for personal protection only.
That will change, however, once his application with the state police to sell handguns and assault weapons goes through. “As soon as I get the license, I’ve got a surprise: pistols at 10 percent over cost,” Scott says. “I’d rather sell a lot of pistols and make a little money on each than make a lot of money on a few. That’s going to be a big thing for me. Rifles sell all right, but pistols sell a lot better. Everybody wants pistols.”
Scott expects the permit from the state to arrive “any day now.” CP