Updated at 11:03 p.m. Dec. 14, 2012
Like millions of Americans, the longtime friends who run a year-old business in the Lake Murray Shopping Center were shocked by news of 20 schoolchildren and six adults being shot to death in Newtown, CT.
But their perspective is unique—as owners of a shop selling high-powered guns a block away from Murray Manor Elementary School.
“My heart weighs very heavy for them,” said one of the two owners, a San Diego native in his 40s. “I feel very, very sad they had to experience that. What else can you really say?”
The co-owners—who asked that their names not be used in this story—have a special appreciation for the Newtown police as well. The co-owners say they have a combined 30 years in law enforcement.
They declined to say which police agency they work for. But they weren’t hesitant to share information about their shop, Wilde Built Tactical, in a rented space at 6045 Lake Murray Blvd.—feet away from a U.S. Postal Service annex in north La Mesa.
“From a law enforcement perspective, it breaks my heart,” said an owner. “That could be my partner or me responding to [shooting] calls.”
He said he’s handled similar shootings in his job—“but not of that caliber.”
Told that at least one Murray Manor parent expressed dismay at the presence of a gun shop west of the K-6 campus, the owner said: “I would encourage them to come in and talk to us—get a feel for us, for our business. We’re extremely responsible.”
Their next-door neighbor, longtime Farmers Insurance Group agent Maureen Ann Moran, said she felt safer having a gun shop in the small shopping center, anchored by a Phillips 76 gas station that has been robbed several times.
Moran says she thinks the gun dealer acts as a deterrent—and gives pause to transients who inhabit the area.
The gun shop owner who spoke to Patch echoed that thought: “I think [neighbors] should feel safe knowing that two law enforcement officers operate the store.”
He acknowledged that the shop stores weapons—including semi-automatic AR-15s similar to the one reportedly used in the Oregon mall shootings—but declined to say how many.
He also said he was “not at liberty to say” what his security system was.
The principal owner, who also has a Facebook page and Twitter account, didn’t start out as a seller of tactical weapons.
His original business, operating out of his home, he said, was making nylon gear for military, law enforcement and “high adventure” uses.
The weapons sales came later, and he said his shop opened in January. The grand opening was in April, according to a flier posted on his website.
“It was kind of like the perfect storm,” he said of finding the office space next to the post office parking lot. “The rent was affordable, and it was available—and we needed a space.”
Did anyone in the shopping center complain about the gun shop as new tenant?
“We encountered no issues at all,” said the owner. Neither has he heard any concerns from the nearby elementary school, he said.
In fact, his partner—also in his 40s—enrolled his children at Murray Manor after a nephew attended the El Paso Street school. The gun shop partner said he moved to La Mesa in 1997 and later served as PTA president at Murray Manor. One child recently attended Murray Manor, and two other children now go to Grossmont High School—a senior boy and a freshman girl.
Wilde Built Tactical doesn’t sell to hunters, the owner said, calling those items “a completely different genre of weapon. … I’m not a hunter. My partner is not a hunter.”
He said: “Our experience is in the tactical aspect of firearms—as opposed to the hunting aspect.”
The shop advertises in law enforcement publications, and specializes in Glocks, which he said have a reputation for reliability and accuracy. He also sells Remingtons and other makes.
In September 2011, his Facebook page boasted: “Got the contract for Rapid City Police Department. I will be outfitting over 70 of their officers with external vest covers!”
Another post suggested a European clientele: “Just completed a set of four custom outer vests for police officers in Ireland!”
And in November 2010, the Facebook page announced: “Had a meeting with a local SWAT team. I am very excited to be working with them to develop some custom tactical gear solutions to meet their needs.”
The owner who spoke to Patch wouldn’t comment on some gun issues in the news—such as NBC sportscaster Bob Costas blaming a “gun culture” for the murder-suicide involving an NFL linebacker.
Asked what responsibility he bears as a gun dealer, he said: “We abide by all the federal and state laws” and noted holding various city, state and federal licenses and certificates to sell firearms.
But the owner acknowledged: “If somebody wants to do harm to somebody, they can use whatever they have available—a shovel, a broom, a hammer. Some people choose firearms.”
He said his shop does all the required background checks, and “we operate by the rules. ... Our philosophy is very conservative. We have the right, obviously, to refuse service to anybody, which we have.”
He said he sought and received approval from his employer to operate a gun shop.
An East County resident for 15 years who was born and grew up in San Diego, the owner said women have visited his small store “who in the past have been intimidated [about] going into a gun shop.”
But women referred by word of mouth to Wilde Built Tactical end up leaving with an education, he said, “and we’ve actually had requests to provide personal [firearms] training.”
The shop is closed Mondays and Tuesdays (but open by appointment) to coordinate with the co-owners’ work schedule in law enforcement. It’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
“A lot of our peers shop here,” said the owner, “because they trust our judgment. They would rather shop with a fellow law enforcement officer.”