By JOHN HOWELL At one time, 316 Warwick Neck Ave. was a cute sidewalk shop where you could buy flowers. About four years ago, it transitioned into an art and antique store. And then in February, in addition to clocks, scented candles, wreaths and
At one time, 316 Warwick Neck Ave. was a cute sidewalk shop where you could buy flowers. About four years ago, it transitioned into an art and antique store. And then in February, in addition to clocks, scented candles, wreaths and paintings mostly by Rhode Island artists, James Martin, owner of Anchor Art & Antiques, started selling guns.
A retired Cranston Police officer, Martin lives in the house behind the tiny shop across from a pre-K childcare center and less than a half mile away from Warwick Neck Elementary School.
In an interview Tuesday morning after unlocking the shop front door and letting a reporter in to the joyful greeting of a golden retriever puppy, Martin said he believes he did everything correctly to sell firearms. He has a Class 1 license from ATF, meaning he passed all the background checks and meets the federal requirements to sell guns. Before displaying about a dozen pistols in two glass cases and lining up long guns in a stand behind the counter, he says he checked with the city. He was told he needed a retail sales license, which he has, and that the property is properly zoned for the sale of guns.
He went further. Martin installed bars behind the shop’s windows, cameras and an alarm system. He bought the biggest safe he could get through the front door.
He thought he was good to go and hung a flag from the store with the word “guns.”
That’s when the fireworks started.
Martin said a woman entered the store. She was alarmed by the display of guns. She protested that Warwick Neck is a “quiet neighborhood,” to which Martin said he replied the store wasn’t making any noise.
A complaint was filed with Warwick Police. Col. Brad Connor paid Martin a visit. Martin learned that while he thought he had complied with all the regulations, he failed to apply for a $50 city license to sell guns. He was told to cease sales and apply for the city sales license.
After more than 90 minutes of testimony, most of it from Warwick Neck residents asserting that their neighborhood is not a location from which to sell firearms, the Board of Public Safety unanimously voted Tuesday night to table action for at least 30 days to research legal issues raised during the hearing.
The residents came well prepared. During the Zoom meeting, Kate Peterson methodically questioned why police had not identified that Martin didn’t have the city license. She displayed photos of the three other city gun shops – pointing out their parking lots and security measures – and talked about the requirements of a city gun sales license.
Comparing licenses on the screen, she said, “there are more restrictions on selling flowers than there are on selling guns.”
Peterson then hit on the question that neither the board, its attorney nor any of the 60 tuned into the meeting could answer: as meeting local laws is a condition to an ATF license, did Martin’s omission invalidate his ATF license, and what measures would the board take?
Board Chair Thomas McGovern kept an even hand. He gave all those wanting to speak the opportunity, interjecting his own questions and often looking for another point of view, calling on Martin and his attorney, Charles Calenda.
The proximity of the store to schools topped concerns of School Committee Chair Judith Cobden, former School Committee chair Jane Austin and school finance director Robert Baxter. Cobden said the sales of guns near a school would send the wrong message to students and parents. “We don’t need more people leaving Warwick because of selling guns.”
Austin said the building is unsuitable for gun sales. She was also troubled that Martin’s “lack of compliance sets a troubling precedent.” Baxter said the school department spends tens of thousands of dollars training students and faculty on lockdowns and having gun sales near a school “aggravates the problem.”
This is not the first gun store to be located near a school. When D&L Gun moved from Wildes Corner to a former 7-Eleven store on West Shore Road, residents, teachers and elected officials protested that it was barely a block away from Robertson School on Nausauket Road. As Mayor Frank Picozzi observed Tuesday morning, no action was taken then to amend zoning laws to consider gun sales, and as a consequence, the city lacks the power to deny gun sales based on the proximity to a school. He said he received numerous calls and emails on the issue, but in spite of personal feelings, the city must follow its regulations.
George Shuster, a member of the Zoning Board of Review whose daughters attended Warwick Neck School, called the store “a unique retail situation” as it is surrounded by residents. He said there is a big difference between selling wreaths and guns, adding that the building is inches from the sidewalk and lacks security. He called it “completely inappropriate.”
Robert Corrente, who served as a U.S. attorney from 2004-09 and lives on the Neck, “the idea this little garden shed should be a gun shop is insane.”
As for his opinion, Chief Connor said the decision rests with the board, but looking at it objectively, he said the department did its checks and that Martin met the requirements – not mentioning the failure to obtain the city license – and “in my opinion I would approve this.”
Longtime Neck resident Jess Ayers was concerned that the building could be easily accessed by someone intent on taking weapons. She noted that the back door was open when she recently passed the shop.
Martin said the shop is open three days a week, that he spends much of his day in the shop, and that the back door was open to let the dogs roam.
Asked Wednesday why he chose to sell guns, Martin said in the 4½ years he’s run Anchor Art & Antiques, he hasn’t received much support from the community and that following the election he felt it was a product that would bring people in. He started looking at adding guns in October.
“I felt it was a good opportunity given the way things were going in the country,” he said.
During the Zoom meeting Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi questioned if Martin would face any repercussions for having sold firearms without first obtaining a city license.
“I don’t see any reason to sell guns next to kids,” he said.
Noting he has a concealed permit and is a proponent of the Second Amendment, Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur said the license is not a debate over gun rights, but rather over the proper locations to sell firearms and ammo in the city.
Mike Harrington circled back to the question of whether Martin had violated the terms of his ATF license in failing to get the city license first. McGovern didn’t have an answer but said he aims to get it before the board votes. Before acting to table the matter, board member Charles Benson observed that the guns are still on display in the store even though Martin is not selling them.
“They shouldn’t be there for show,” he said.
The board agreed. Martin said he would remove them.
Martin said Wednesday they are no longer on display.