A gun shop set to open in West Rehoboth has drawn opposition from residents concerned the business will detract from efforts to improve quality of life in the neighborhood.
"We don't think it's a good fit," said Kevin McKinney, project director for Coalition for West Rehoboth Inc., a citizens group that has rehabbed homes in the community to provide affordable housing.
Richard Catts, owner of Delaware Firearms at 19849 Hebron Road, recently put up a sign announcing the gun shop on the front of a commercial warehouse building that also houses the Catts umbrella business, a concession that rents out beach equipment throughout the area. The gun shop is one of several commercial businesses along Hebron Road ouside Rehoboth, an area under county jurisdiction.
Catts said he has been operating for months by appointment only; the store is not open - yet.
"Big distributors don't even have guns right now, so I'll probably have to wait," he said. "You can't buy guns or ammunition."
Sussex County Director of Planning and Zoning Lawrence Lank said Catts approached county officials a few months ago to open the gun shop in a building that already had been approved for business. Only planning and zoning approval is needed in those instances; Lank said he received all the necessary approvals from the Department of Transportation, fire marshal and county building-code officials, but he still needs a final site plan for Catts to submit drawings to clarify rough sketches turned in earlier. With the final site plan-drawings on file, Lank said, the gun shop would be a done deal.
"Technically, he has everything but the final drawing," Lank said.
Still, Catts said he has a certificate of occupancy from Lank and Andy Wright, chief of building code for Sussex County, that he received after Wright approved the interior accommodations for the gun shop.
Catts said he would like to open the storefront soon but may not be able to do so until September.
"It depends what's available on the market," he said, adding distributors are restocking their inventories.
Catts said House Bill 35, passed by the Delaware Legislature, will go into effect July 1, and with it come more restrictions for gun purchasers.
"You can't transfer guns from person to person; you have to buy them from a licensed gun shop," he said.
Catts said he intends to sell sporting, target-shooting and shotguns along with handguns when he opens his store.
Rehoboth Beach Mayor Sam Cooper said since West Rehoboth lies in county jurisdiction, he'll let the county handle the gun shop controversy.
"I don't see where it would be in the city's interest to get involved," he said.
West Rehoboth resident Ada Loper said a gun shop is the last thing the neighborhood needs.
"I just heard the sign was up, and that was it," she said. "It looks sneaky to me."
She said she would expect to get a letter or something indicating a new business was coming to the area.
"We don't need any guns around here," Loper said. "It's just the wrong thing for the area … That's going to bring more crime to the area."
Eleanor Whaley lives one street away from the gun shop. A mother whose son was beaten by a group in West Rehoboth and later died, Whaley organizes an annual peace march to prevent violence in the community, and she is vice president of West Rehoboth Land Trust.
"I'm afraid there are going to be break-ins by these kids that won't listen to anybody and no one can talk to, and then we're going to have more people dead in our community," she said.
Coalition for West Rehoboth's McKinney agrees and said adding a store that sells deadly weapons is counter to the work his group and others are doing to improve West Rehoboth's image.
"Our community is so fragile. That this type of establishment can be put in when we've made so much progress is contradictory to our purpose," he said.
McKinney said he is particularly concerned about security at the gun shop because it is not a fortified structure.
"They say it's secure, but it's not secure," he said. "You can cut through the side."
The Grande at Canal Pointe resident Leslie Slan said she heard about the gun shop on Sunday and was shocked the business would go up in a residential community.
"It sends a poor message to the community that's trying to revitalize," she said.
Rehoboth resident Mable Granke, a member of the West Rehoboth Land Trust, said the community would be better served if a convenience store or coin-operated laundry were added instead of a gun shop.
"We're trying to bring this out in the open in terms of how inappropriate it is to put something like this in a community that's trying so hard to improve itself," she said. "Something like this is destructive."
Whaley said she is in the process of drawing up a petition - online and a hard copy - to circulate throughout West Rehoboth and the nearby neighborhoods of Canal Corkran and The Grande at Canal Pointe.
"We're trying to work together as neighbors in a solidified manner," McKinney said.
The outrage over Catts' gun shop, however, has not reached Catts.
"I've had quite a few calls from people who want me to open," he said.
When asked if he would consider moving his gun shop in light of community opposition, he said he is willing to work with the community and community activists to resolve any and all issues.
"I personally haven't received any calls or negative feedback," he said.