Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: Interfaith group objects to Big Daddy gun store

by Rev. Zachary Morton

The Greater Morgantown Interfaith Association wants to call the community’s attention to a local issue that is of special concern to vulnerable public spaces.

A number of terrorist attacks by mass shooters have occurred across our nation in the last decade. We are unfortunately well-acquainted with the suffering these incidents have brought to communities across the nation. Our schools and houses of worship have been especially frequent targets. We recognize that, while many factors that contribute to the proliferation of this violence, one common denominator is access to high capacity, high caliber semi-automatic rifles.

We recently learned that a firearms and ammunition dealer called Big Daddy Unlimited is signed to lease retail space in The Deck — owned by HardyWorld LLC — in downtown Morgantown. This business brazenly markets AR-15 and other assault-style weapons. More disturbingly, they explicitly push a propagandized narrative of left v. right, conservative v. liberal, us v. them, in their marketing and business messaging. In many ways this business represents an extremist position that is contributing to the violence that we have seen take place in our society. Their extreme rhetoric makes it difficult for us to envision how they could contribute to the welcoming atmosphere that we want to build in Morgantown.

We do not oppose the business being done by existing retailers in our community. We have an adequate number of local locations that sell hunting rifles and handguns. As people of faith and citizens of the United States, we believe that there must be a careful balance struck between the rights and utilitarian needs of people to own guns, and concerns for public safety.

We believe that the presence of a Big Daddy Unlimited retail space, in a prominent location, not only makes our schools, campus, religious congregations and public spaces less safe, but it sends the wrong message about the values we need to build the future of Morgantown. It emboldens and legitimizes fringe organizations and individuals — which undoubtedly exist here in West Virginia — to use military grade weapons to intimidate or harm those whom they would choose to target in our community. This is a risk we cannot take.

Gun violence has devastated too many communities across this nation. We are foolish to think that such a thing could never happen here in Morgantown. We oppose the presence of Big Daddy Unlimited within Morgantown city limits. We call upon the city council and county commission to prevent this location from opening. We also call upon HardyWorld LLC — the owners of the development — to cancel the lease for Big Daddy Unlimited’s retail location.

We call upon every concerned citizen in Morgantown to contact your elected officials — in the city and county — to express your concern. We also invite you to contact HardyWorld representatives and express your concern and outrage. It is up to us to create the future of Morgantown together — and to create and maintain a safe environment for all of our neighbors and our children.

Rev. Zachary Morton is the Head Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Morgantown. He wrote this on behalf of the Greater Morgantown Interfaith Association.