In the Old Village of Mt. Pleasant, historic homes and sprawling oaks are the norm. But AR-15s? Not so much. That just might change with the addition of a new business, the Old Village Armory.
Surrounded by single-family homes on quiet dead-end May Lane, the Old Village Armory is set to open around the corner from the Old Village library, two churches with nurseries, and Moultrie Middle School.
For three years, Ruth Brennan has run Bits of Lace's e-commerce business out of an office on May Lane. She has no problem with her new gun-loving neighbor's right to sell firearms, but she's against a new retailer on the street. "It's a free country. I own a gun," Brennan says. "I do have an issue with the business being retail based. This is a quiet dead-end road with no outlet in an established community. Where are the cars going to go? The increased traffic? I'm surprised a retail store could get a permit in a residential area."
The Town of Mt. Pleasant gave the Old Village Armory a business license in October with little or no controversy. Owner Kyle Braxton confirmed the store's planned opening in the coming weeks but would not comment for this story.
The future home of the Old Village Armory is zoned for commercial use despite being in a residential area, and since the business isn't a strip club, tattoo parlor, or shooting range, it has every right to be so close to a church or school.
However, at least one Old Village resident thinks the armory has no place in the neighborhood. "I'm not saying I want a tattoo shop in the Old Village, but I'm feeling an armory should fall under the same guidelines," says Ryan Bretone. "What concerns me is that people might be looking to purchase a firearm so close to a school. I don't know their intention."
Bretone was concerned enough to call the Town of Mt. Pleasant to complain about the gun shop's impending arrival. "The town's reaction was very passive," Bretone says. "They mentioned regulations, nothing they can do, and that you can buy a firearm at Walmart. I never even thought of that, so why should that be any different? I don't have an answer to that question."
Mt. Pleasant Mayor Linda Page acknowledges the issues surrounding the shop, stating, "I have concerns about guns, but I sell them. How can you challenge what businesses can go where? If zoning allows it, I supposed I'd have to support it. I don't like the way it sounds, but I truly believe in business and property rights."
Addressing what potential action unhappy residents can take, Page says, "If we were going to change the property [from commercial], it had to be before they applied. If we were concerned, it should have been done before. Taking away privileges and rights — down-zoning — is hard. It's much easier to give more rights than take away, certainly not after they apply."
This leaves those in the neighborhood with little recourse for changing the situation. James Scott, an Old Village resident and preservationist, spread word about the shop's arrival. "In the last few month, we've put together an email list of a few hundred families with regards to development, specially the Earl's Court development, to draw attention to it. Our main interest — it's more about awareness, concern in the Old Village particularly related to development, increased density, types of business."
Regarding the armory's location, Scott says, "It's not the best place for it ... Even though May Lane is zoned business, it's surrounded by single-family homes. Churches are steps away."
And then there's the Old Village Armory's proximity to Moultrie Middle School. At less than a half mile away, this is the most pressing concern for many residents, especially given the rise of gun violence in schools.
Jeff Scott, director of security and emergency management for Charleston County School District, isn't concerned about a gun shop being so close to a school. "There is no correlation between commercial or residential zoning and guns arriving at school," he says. "Weapons on school property are normally students who have issues in their neighborhood and bring these issues to school with them."
While that may allay the fears of some, it doesn't reassure everyone. Jo Ann Fisher just purchased her home across the road in August. "I look out my kitchen window right down May Lane. I don't like knowing that someone is walking out of there with a high-powered rifle. It's disconcerting," she says. "There are so many schools, preschools, and nurseries around that area. And to have people come in and out purchasing weapons, with so many kids walking around and close to it. It doesn't seem like it fits. I'm not sure why that would be a good location for such a store."