Pawn Shop in Radford looking to offer Gun-Safety classes

5 min read The sun shone through the blinds into the room with off-white walls, bringing with it the warmth of a spring day, amiable energy and the comfort of a safe space. Is there such a place? After all, “I feel a sense of self here.”


By Shiza J. Manzoor |

The sun shone through the blinds into the room with off-white walls, bringing with it the warmth of a spring day, amiable energy and the comfort of a safe space. Is there such a place? After all, “I feel a sense of self here.”

Only recently has the term safe been extended to refer to places beyond one’s home. For some, that looks like a “safe zone” where one is welcome to identify as they so choose; for some, security revolves around a barrel. Some, don’t feel the need to be armed.

As of November of last year, a pawn shop by the name “ESR Pawn” opened in downtown Radford. Not many know about it nor that they sell firearms as well; those who do, happen to walk upon it as they make their way down Main street.

At first sight, the “shiny stuff” is what catches people’s eyes. “It’s a little hard for people to notice it at first,” said Samuel Waleska, manager of the Radford branch. “When we first opened, we could go two to three days, and I wouldn’t have a single customer walk through the doors.”

Fortunately for Waleska and the pawn shop, times have changed.

“Now we’re not swamped all the time, but it’s a constant flow of people coming in either buying things or pawning things or selling things.”

He says there’s an even mix of people that come in from students to an older crowd to even locals. This makes it difficult for them to market as there’s no one demographic to target, so word of mouth it is.

The store is set up so that things like guitars, televisions, electronics, movies, vinyl records, and other surplus stuff are facing outside, toward the road. “Stuff like that tends to do rather well, so I keep the shiny stuff in the front – sort of draws them in,” Waleska said. “Till they get around and go, ‘Oh, look! They have guns!’”

As of right now, the law in Virginia states that anyone can purchase a rifle or a shotgun at the age of 18, but an individual must be 21-years-old to buy a pistol – the reason being, “small guns are easier to conceal than larger ones.”

Arguments like “guns kill people” or “people kill people” emerge, but no matter what the side looks like, everyone wants to feel a sense of security. To Nikki Arnold, a junior at Radford University, this means “no civilian should own a gun.”

Her stance is that people should go back and take another look at the second amendment. “Our government at the time could not afford to arm its own militia, so it allowed its militia (aka citizens at the time) to arm themselves. The second amendment has been taken advantage of,” and she sees no solution to it. “It’s sad, incomprehensible, and uneasy.”

She adds, “To say that we are safer with our guns is to say, ‘I’m willing to kill others to keep myself and my family safe.’”

Nikki’s world would be the ideal place to live in: a safe place for all. However, it is “not realistic.”

To Brett Smith, a senior at Radford University, finding common ground may be closer to this world she speaks of. “If there isn’t (a middle ground), then nothing will ever get done because reps (Republicans) and libs (Liberals) won’t work together on it. Can’t say ban all guns. Can’t say allow anything and everything.”

“Also,” Smith points out, “look at Switzerland’s gun policies and how many guns they have in their country compared to the crime rate they have. They do it right by making it mandatory to get training on how to use the gun.”

With the political climate as it is right now, store manager Waleska admits to receiving some negative feedback. “When we first opened this store, people walking by would be like, ‘Oh boy, another gun store.’ But, if you go outside of Radford, they’re all over the place.”

His coworker August Hawel talked about how he had overheard interesting conversations throughout his time at ESR Pawn. “You get a lot of conflicting views, and it’s fun to watch them intermingle. It’s definitely a very good indicator of the times.”

Hawel’ views on gun control: “I think that it could be better. I don’t know how. Otherwise, that’d be the million-dollar question. However, a complete ban would be impossible.”

The Radford store focuses more on pawn rather than firearms, but it is the opposite for their store in Dublin.

“Guns haven’t proven to be a real money maker (in Radford),” said Waleska. “Everyone thought they’d be because Radford doesn’t have a gun store. The business in Dublin, however, has always been very heavy in guns and it is what tends to make the most money.”

However, It is not all about the cha-ching, cha-ching. “The owners and myself are actually very into educating people about guns – how to be responsible with them and such, not so much selling them and making money. We care about that kind of stuff.”

So their Dublin store holds gun safety classes, an element they are looking to add to their Radford store. “They’re held on Sundays, typically, and that’s when both stores are closed. It’s also everyone’s day off.”

“Every gun has the potential for misuse,” believes Daniye Bartell, a junior at Radford University. “There are pistols just as strong as the AR15 that civilians can buy.”

In the past, Bartell was against the idea of guns. “After the Pulse nightclub shooting and ‘Unite the Right’ last year, I think trans people should arm up, gays should arm up, Jews should arm up, women should arm up, Black people should arm up, et cetera.”

He sees it as a defense that minorities should use to protect themselves against the current gun climate in the country.

The ESR Pawn shop makes sure to prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands. Interested buyers are required to fill out paperwork and have their background checked every single time.

“Everyone has to,” said one of the employees. “It doesn’t matter if you have tattoos on your face or you just got out of church.”

Background checks could take about five minutes to five days according to Waleska. “We run it through NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and they tell us yay or nay. If there’s a denial – somebody lied on the form – they will actually send the state police and they will drag you out.”

Gun control is a hot topic right now that makes some wish they’d never been invented. Some enjoy the expensive hobby and want others to experience the control and responsibility that comes with picking up a firearm.

Note from the author: I came across a quote recently that I find to be true.

“… Chance favors only the prepared mind,” Louis Pasteur.

Photo Credit: (Shiza J. Manzoor-Contributing Writer)