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Friday, March 1, 2013

Gun shop display rankles some in Merrimack

MERRIMACK – The current segment of what a Collectible Arms & Ammo co-partner calls a rotating window display is raising hackles among some in town for its depiction of President Barack Obama as the “firearms salesman of the year” and images of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong above the statement “Gun control works: Ask the experts.”

Similar creations, in part or whole, are fairly common on posters, in gun shop windows and as website headers, but one longtime neighbor of the shop, which opened a year and a half ago in the Galaxy Gas Plaza, 557 Daniel Webster Highway, said Thursday he felt “compelled to say something” about the display. ...

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MERRIMACK – The current segment of what a Collectible Arms & Ammo co-partner calls a rotating window display is raising hackles among some in town for its depiction of President Barack Obama as the “firearms salesman of the year” and images of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong above the statement “Gun control works: Ask the experts.”

Similar creations, in part or whole, are fairly common on posters, in gun shop windows and as website headers, but one longtime neighbor of the shop, which opened a year and a half ago in the Galaxy Gas Plaza, 557 Daniel Webster Highway, said Thursday he felt “compelled to say something” about the display.

“Truthfully, I don’t understand why a good businessman would choose to send a message like that,” resident Chuck Mower said. “To depict the president with AK-47s crossed in front of him and link him with Stalin, Hitler and Mao, that’s way over the top.

“This is a case of a legitimate business sending an illegitimate message,” Mower said.

But Keith Cox, who runs the shop with a business partner, said the display has drawn far more approval than objections since he put it up a little more than a month ago.

“I can tell you that for each person who doesn’t like it, there are 150 who compliment us on it. Often, people just open the door and say ‘I love it,’ or give a thumbs-up, while they’re getting gas,” Cox said of the pumps out front that belong to Galaxy convenience store.

The controversy over the storefront, which is in the town’s Reeds Ferry neighborhood about half-mile south of Bedford Road and down the street from the Shaw’s plaza, stands as a local example of heightened emotions that have developed on both sides of the nation’s gun issue since the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“Guns have been around for a long time, and they’ll be around for a long time to come,” Mower said, adding that as a gun owner himself and a combat veteran who has been trained in firearm use, his objection is not to the legal ownership and use of guns but the giant message the shop’s display sends.

“When we stray from what’s generally acceptable within the great bell curve to something on the fringe, it’s incumbent on us to stand up and say, ‘no, that’s not acceptable,’” Mower said.

Cox, who welcomed the chance to talk about the issue, said he respects others’ opinions and has no desire to engage in heavy debate when the issue comes up.

“One gentleman who came in to express his opinion said he felt we were disrespecting the president. That’s not the intention (of the display), but I listened to him and told him I respected his opinion. He was very cordial,” Cox said, adding that the display is not meant as a political statement but to address the issue of gun ownership.

That the depiction of Obama and that of Hitler, Stalin and Mao are on opposite sides of the display, Cox said, indicates they are meant to convey separate messages.

“The ‘Obama salesman of the year’ thing has actually been around since 2008,” he said, adding that if the intent was to directly compare Obama and the other three, the designers could have inserted Obama’s likeness with theirs.

Although stirring emotions around town, the display is quite tame compared to actions some gun shop owners have taken, especially since Obama’s reelection in November.

Just days after the election, a shop in Pinetop, Ariz., posted a sign stating that anyone who voted for Obama wasn’t welcome. In Pittsburgh, a gun shop owner gave away an AR-15 rifle and 1,000 rounds of ammunition in protest of Obama’s gun safety proposals.

And a shop in Norwich, N.Y. banned supporters of both Obama and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying that voting for them “has had a negative impact on the country and this business.”

Still, Mower, a school teacher in Litchfield who has long been civilly active in Merrimack, said the sight of such displays is unsettling for someone who regularly conducts drills to prepare for the unthinkable.

“We have lockdown drills where we have to take the children and hide,” he said. “We try to give them appropriate messages about these things. I take these things very seriously.”

Should a similar display ever pop up in school, Mower said, red flags would go up.

“We certainly wouldn’t tolerate a display like this on (students’) shirts in school,” he said. “And I’m sure that if I ever saw a student sketching Obama with two AK-47s crossed in front of him, I’d be bringing it to the attention” of school administration.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).