An Eerie Glimpse Into the Gun Store That Sold the Newtown Massacre Weapons
Riverview Sales sits in a shopping center in East Winsdor, Connecticut, off of I-95, near the border of Massachusetts. It's casually situated next to Sky Diner, a "family hair cutting" shop, and a sushi restaurant. Its sign is unmistakable: "GUNS."
It’s a big store, bright and carpeted, with long aisles stocked full of different kinds of ammunition and firearm accessories: targets, pistol grips, magazine clamps, shotshell holders, vests, hats. Hundreds of different kinds of ammunition.
This is the store that sold Nancy Lanza the .22 caliber Savage Mark II that her son, Adam, used to kill her, and the Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S rifle (AR-15) that he used to kill 20 schoolchildren and six adult staff on December 14, 2012.
At the entrance, there was an old-fashioned popcorn machine to the left, and a wall of mounted deer heads to the right. A soft rock radio station played in the background. Employees Nicole, 36, and Dennis Kies, Jr., stood behind the counter. Their manager, Dave LaGuercia, sat at a desk in the back, underneath a big flag that, once again, read "GUNS."
It reeked of stale cigarette smoke.
He barely looked up from his computer. When asked about how his business was doing, he extended his hands out, palms up, signalling out at his empty store. "What does it look like?"
From what he could remember, was Nancy Lanza was normal? He curtly replied: "Looked it. Seemed it."
LaGuercia was pissed, for several reasons.
Exactly one year ago, business was good. Interestingly, they saw an uptick in sales after President Barack Obama was reelected, a noticeable trend across the country, as gun enthusiasts, fearing impending gun control regulations, wanted to stock up.
Sales were already on the rise when the Newtown shootings happened, just 65 miles southwest of Riverview. The store had closed for two days out of respect, but when they re-opened, there was a line out the door and around the block. At one point, there were about 65 people waiting, sometimes for two or three hours. The supply could hardly keep up with the demand and the shelves were clearing out.
But then, for Riverview, things changed drastically, almost immediately.
Six days after the shooting, on December 20, 2012, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), came in and pulled LaGuercia's gun license. In August, he pleaded guilty in federal court to misdemeanor charges of transferring a firearm before completing a background check and failing to maintain proper firearm records.
The charges are unrelated to the Newtown massacre, though it's likely that the shootings are what initiated the investigation.
On Thursday, Nicole sat behind the counter of the empty store. She was wearing a hoodie with a blue and white flannel shirt over it. In two hours that passed, she had fewer than five customers.
It's not just that LaGuercia can't sell guns anymore. In April, the Connecticut Senate approved a wide-ranging bill, making Connecticut’s gun laws the second strictest in the country, after California. The legislation bans the sale of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds, requires background checks for private gun sales, and tightens registration laws.
In October, laws for purchasing ammunition changed. A person needs to have a Connecticut pistol permit or ammunition certificate to purchase ammunition or magazines. There has also been a ban placed on any assault rifles manufactured before 1994.
Kies said, "We're on a skeleton crew. We used to have six or seven people behind the counter."
A middle-aged man in a suit, tie, and trench coat walked in and asked Nicole if they had a 10-round magazines in stock. She told him they did not have any, and he left.
Kies said, "The laws aren't going to do a single thing to prevent another death. All they're doing is putting hardship on law-abiding citizens." Kies himself owns about 40 firearms. He said for most gun owners he knows, that's on the low side.
An animated customer entered. Benjamin Biron, 37, former Marine Corps, 1994-2002. He said it was troubling that an honorably discharged veteran of the armed forces, who carried a rifle in defense of the U.S., has to be subjected to these types of laws. "I'm not saying I'm against things like the national instant background checks and proper I.D. for those that wish to purchase firearms, but I find it a bit silly to have to constantly prove and reprove who I am to the state for the purpose of owning firearms," he said.
"I bet you didn't know that they left out the firearms in this new law that were previously banned. I could go to a gun store today and buy an AR-15 made prior to the 1994 ban, no questions, and I wouldn't even have to register it according to the new laws. I'm no legal scholar, but what are these people in the legislature thinking? I mean, the only difference between the two is the date of manufacture, nothing else."
Biron went to Nicole at the counter to purchase some ammunition. Nicole said, "I'll need three forms of I.D. and a sample of blood."
She was kidding — only partly.
As the New York Times recently reported, "In the 12 months since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., almost every state has enacted at least one new gun law. Nearly two-thirds of the new laws ease restrictions and expand the rights of gun owners."
That's the reality of it.
Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook killings. The Riverview store will be open, but probably empty; they no longer sell the guns that so many Americans are desperately looking for.