FUQUAY-VARINA — For the better part of 10 years, Clay Ausley has owned a gun store in Fuquay-Varina, right on Main Street. You cant miss the logo mounted on the outside wall: a 6-foot Glock pistol.
Business is booming for Fuquay Gun & Gold fueled largely, Ausley said, by the election of President Barack Obama.
So in June, Ausley will open a new store right down the road, four times as large and decorated with silver guns on three sides of the building, each one about the size of a sofa. One fan nicknamed the new display The Town Glock.
But it didnt sit well with one of his neighbors.
Nicole Sickles, 44, is a mother of five. She describes herself as both a Republican and a gun owner a defender of the Second Amendment. Ausleys sign struck her as tasteless and offensive, especially because his new store sits across the street from a day care: Gingerbread Littleversity.
She started a dustup in town that hasnt entirely settled. Im going to write about it today at the risk of stirring the dust even further.
In some ways, I think it got handled well. In other ways, I think it got handled badly. But before anybody stops reading, heres the point Ill try to make: People can disagree about guns and their place without demonizing each other. Its as tough a job as life itself, but just as worth it.
This all started when Sickles drove past Ausleys soon-to-open store on May 1 with her teenage daughter and some friends. Given the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., they thought, werent these signs over the top?
Its not about gun rights, said Sickles daughter Caitlynn, 17. We all know its a gun store. You dont need this obnoxious sign.
Sickles posted her concerns on Facebook, asking whether anybody wanted to join her in a picket. Later, out at a barbecue restaurant, she asked a police officer there how to go about picketing lawfully. When she asked the officers wife whether the gun store signs bothered her, the talk grew heated.
Sickles decided picketing wasnt the right road, and she took down her Facebook post. But by then, the news of both episodes had already reached Ausley. Shes also sent him electronic messages, which he has deleted.
I didnt want any confrontation with her, Ausley said later. If Im pleasing and I am the majority of the folks in Fuquay-Varina with the way I run my business, its hard to make concessions for one person.
Then on May 3, Sickles went to Fuquay Gun & Gold with her husband and two friends. She found Ausley and congratulated him on his new store. She introduced herself as a mother and a gun proponent, but she asked him whether he felt any moral obligation to compromise on his sign, it being so huge.
Have some couth about it, she said later. Dont be like a cowboy.
Their conversation lasted about 15 minutes. Both of them recorded it. Nobody raised a voice. Nobody got unruly.
Ausley calmly explained that he had followed all the towns guidelines and that he could have legally put up a larger sign. Hed invested a lot of money in his signs, he said, which are the logo for his business, and he didnt buy the argument that guns equate violence.
To Ausley, its a question of the First Amendment as much as the Second. Doesnt he have the same right to free speech that allows Sickles to protest?
If she didnt like the sign, he said, she could avoid it. If she wanted to picket, she could go ahead. I assure you, he told her, within a few minutes, well have you surrounded by gun owners.
Fuquay-Varina police arrived as Sickles was leaving. Ausley asked her not to return. Later, he posted about the incident on his stores Facebook page, asking supporters to conduct themselves properly.
If the pickets begin, he said, I would like for all of you to be on your best behavior and treat them with respect because that is the right they have, no matter how silly it may seem to us.
Not everybody honored Ausleys request. Some samples from the 720 comments on the Facebook post:
That woman should move back up north with all the other Communists.
She needs to have a cranial, rectal implant.
You are a special kind of moron arent you?
Later that day, a truck with five men rode by Sickles house. They said god-awful, horrible things, Sickles said, including, Youve been warned, bitch.
Sickles called the Wake County Sheriffs Office, which sent a deputy out. Well ride by her house as much as we can, Sheriff Donnie Harrison told me.
Sickles had planned to make her plea before the town commissioners the following Monday. But she said a caller urged against it, telling her that a lynch mob had gathered.
I wish she hadnt taken that advice. Ausley posted a picture of his supporters who came to that meeting, and it doesnt look like any lynch mob to me. Just nine people. If Sickles had spoken publicly in front of the towns elected officials, maybe this could have gotten hashed out without her getting painted as a wild-eyed fanatical gun-taker.
I dont want to be a referee here. My opinion is just one more on the pile.
Ausleys sign doesnt bother me. Im a protective parent, but Im more worried about cars speeding on residential streets than somebodys gun store advertisement.
That said, I hate it that Sickles couldnt raise an objection without somebody ripping her apart. Its hard enough to speak your mind without somebody insulting your intelligence or the place where you grew up. And if youre the kind of person who drives by somebodys house and says, Youve been warned, you dont deserve to have a car, let alone a gun.
Whenever I wanted to badmouth anybody, my grandmother always told me to think of 10 nice things to say. It was tough. Tough as life itself. But just as worth it.