It seemed like an unlikely, but effective, resolution: To keep another gun store from opening up in Culver City and replacing one that was shutting down, city officials decided to buy the controversial shop itself.
The Martin B. Retting gun store along Washington Boulevard, emblazoned with a huge mural of a rifle and the word “GUNS” painted in oversize letters, had operated in the city for 65 years. In recent years, it drew mounting objections from some parents and residents in light of a spate of school shootings across the country and its proximity to an elementary school, even after the city clamped down on firearms dealers near schools. Grandfathered in and allowed to continue operating, it could have transferred those rights to a new owner.
With a $6.5-million price tag, the cost was “on the high end” of commercial real estate in the area, city staffers said during the Sept. 11 meeting where the City Council voted to buy the store, but parents and gun control advocates argued the price was worth it to stop another gun store from taking its place.
“It’s high, but it is an investment in the safety of this community and our kids,” said Megan Oddsen, a member of Culver 878, a group of residents and parents who advocate for local gun safety measures.
Although the City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the purchase, not all residents applauded the move to spend millions of dollars to keep another gun dealer from setting up shop.
“This is bad governance hiding under a social issue that needs to be addressed, no question,” resident Gary Zeiss said during the meeting.
Others worried that even though gun violence is a social issue that needs to be addressed, the city was paying an inflated price for the property to do so.
“Purchasing that property is not going to solve that problem,” said Marta Valdez.
But advocates for gun control argued that the shop, which had a history of violations and safety concerns, was a valid target.
A recent report from the California Department of Justice found that from 2010 to 2022, the Martin B. Retting gun store ranked among the state’s top 10 sources of “crime guns,” defined as “recovered firearms that are illegally possessed, have been used in a crime, or are suspected of having been used in a crime.”
During that time period, according to the report, 1,019 guns sold by Martin B. Retting, or 1.48% of the store’s total firearms sold, were linked to crimes.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also found issues with the store during its most recent inspection.
An ATF inspection in 2015 cited the store with seven violations, including failing to report multiple sales, failing to identify gun customers, and selling firearms despite having a reasonable cause to believe the customer was prohibited from owning guns, and having missing firearms.
“This is a great example of why communities need to have the ability to take action,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady campaign, a gun control advocacy group. “This was a major dealer that had much larger infractions than we usually see, and that galvanized local activists.”
The number of firearms linked to crimes associated with the store is especially alarming, Brown said, noting that many shops see only a handful, if any, of their firearms linked to crimes.
“The type of violations we have seen at this store have been classic violations that show they are failing to engage in even the most basic business activities that would stop guns from being sold unlawfully,” she said.
City Councilmember Dan O’Brien acknowledged concerns about purchasing the store and its price, but he noted that the city plans to sell the property.
“We’re purchasing an asset,” he said.
Martin B. Retting management announced the gun store’s closure in July, telling customers in a letter it was shutting its doors and selling its inventory after operating in the same location since 1958.
“There’s really nothing to read into the retirement and our closing other than the fact that the owners are well past the age where most folks have already been retired for a while,” the letter, dated July 16, reads. “Despite having overcome and flourished after everything the firearms industry could throw at us, it turns out that the one thing we can’t defeat is the inevitable march of time.”
Owners and management of the store did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2005, city officials adopted an ordinance preventing gun sellers from operating within 1,000 feet from schools. Martin B. Retting, which is located about 800 feet from La Ballona Elementary School, was able to continue operating where it stood because of grandfathered rights.
The store would have also been able to transfer those rights to a new owner.
When members of Culver 878 learned of that exception, Oddsen said, the group mobilized to find a way to keep another store from opening in the location.
“We always had a lot of concern about guns being so close to our school, but Uvalde was the event that pushed us into activism,” she said, referring to the Texas mass shooting last year that left 19 students and two teachers dead.
Culver 878 pushed for the City Council to adopt an ordinance that will require special business permits for firearm retailers, as well as require gun shops to have specific security and storage requirements.
After a spate of mass school shootings, Oddsen said the group worried not only about the safety concerns with Martin B. Retting but also the psychological impact on students who had to pass the store on the way to school.
Members of Culver 878 reached out to the city and worked with the Brady campaign to look at options to keep another gun retailer from setting up shop there.
At first, city officials considered an “urgency ordinance” that would have prevented the grandfathered rights from being transferred to a new owner. City staffers however, raised concerns that such a move would have unintended consequences and possibly expose the city to legal action, if it affected all businesses. If the measure was tailored to address only firearm stores, it could draw 2nd Amendment challenges.
City Councilmember Freddy Puza ended up meeting with the parents group and suggested an atypical solution.
“When I met with you I said that, for me, the best solution would be to find someone else to buy the property,” Puza said during the Sept. 11 City Council meeting. “I think I also said, ‘Find some rich philanthropic person that is willing to do this.’ I didn’t know the city was going to be the ‘rich philanthropic person,’ but, you know, it is the solution.”
Most of the speakers during the meeting were in favor of the purchase.
“We will never know how many lives will be saved because of the actions taken tonight,” said Rev. Frances Rosenau of Culver City Presbyterian Church.
Kelly Kent, vice president of the Culver City Unified Board of Education, called the decision to purchase the store a “gift” to students.
“Preventing this location from becoming a grandfathered-in gun store is a gift that you are able to give to at least the nearly 600 students that walk by the Retting store every day,” she said.
The worry about a possible school shooting is still a concern for parents and students, Oddsen said, but no longer having to walk or drive by the gun store after seeing news of yet another school shooting is encouraging.
“Our kids will have less trauma from seeing the word ‘guns’ on the way to and from school every day,” Oddsen said. “We are grateful that the city took action to protect our families and we can think less of the possibility of a shooting.”
The City Council’s approval of the purchase came with a slight provision.
“As soon as we have control of the property, we should repaint it,” Puza said.
Source: LA Times