Gun-A-Rama serves all your shooting needs
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in June, family-owned Gun-A-Rama is hopping. Owner Frank Caso is on hand with his daughter Virginia and her two children, who are sitting on stools behind a counter enjoying an after-school snack. Caso and Virginia talk to customers on the phone, informing them of what merchandise they have in stock (pun intended). Mysterious snippets like “stainless,” “1911” float through the store which is small and cluttered, with a decidedly hospitable feel.
Looking around, it’s clear what they have in stock: rifles, shotguns, pistols, revolvers, holsters, badge holders, handcuffs, knives, ammunition, gun bags, earmuffs, and a lot of other gear not immediately identifiable.
Gun-A-Rama doesn’t deal with antiques or collectibles. “That’s for the Antiques Road Show,” Caso says. You could buy a gun for as much as $50,000. “It’s like showing off that you have a Mercedes or Lamborghini,” Caso says.
The store is adorned with flags, signs from gun manufacturers, and lots of taxidermy—deer, a fox, an armadillo—and behind the glass case a hat that says “Team Glock.”
Caso is a friendly 71-year-old with a full head of white hair. A lifelong Jersey City resident, he opened the store in 1967 but he’s been a gun guy for a lot longer than that. “As a young kid, I took money from my father in order to purchase a toy double barreled cork-shooting gun,” he recalls. His father was angry, not that he had bought the gun but that he had stolen the money. “He took the gun and broke it over his knee. He almost broke his knee. I was scared as could be.”
In those days, Caso says, candy stores sold toy guns. He bought guns that shot ping pong balls and cap guns. He still remembers the “sweet smell” of the spent caps.
Gun-A-Rama is the go-to place for guns in Jersey City. David Murray, former owner of Dave’s Sporting Goods, which had been the only other gun store, lost his license to sell firearms in 2007 when he fired his .357 Magnum into the air after two guys double parked in front of his car near Jordan’s Lounge on Seventh Street and refused to move.
An unthinkable scenario for Frank Caso. “It’s a privilege to sell firearms in the state of New Jersey,” he says. “Driving is a privilege, and if you break the motor vehicle laws, you lose the privilege.”
By the end of June, 2009, there were 16 homicides in Jersey City, 13 of them committed with a firearm. Stats like that spurred Mayor Jerramiah Healy in 2006 to propose the “One Handgun A Month” ordnance, which Caso challenged in state Supreme Court. He’s had it, he says, with “laws that affect honest owners.”
Which is why he is a fan of the former Alaska governor. “I like her thoughts,” he says, the ghost of a grin betraying that there may be other things about Ms. Palin that he likes.
Gun enthusiasts come to Caso’s from all over the state. On this Tuesday afternoon, a young corporate-looking guy palms the handguns, and Brian Goldberg has come from Aberdeen to pick up his shotgun. He says he likes Gun-A-Rama because it’s “clean and has a great selection.”
He already owns a 9 mm pistol and a .357 Magnum revolver, which he uses for “range practice.” The Mossberg shotgun is “for protection,” he says. “It’s a deterrent in the house.” He cocks it. Just that sound, he says, could “scare someone away.”
Protection, target practice, law enforcement, and hunting are the main activities that draw people to guns. There are game preserves in the state where you can shoot squirrel, rabbit, quail, groundhog, turkey, and sometimes bear. At a firing range in Bayonne, novices can learn to shoot.
“It’s a vo-tech type of thing,” Caso says.
Gun-A-Rama is tucked between the Forget Me Not Floral Boutique and an “unusual furniture” store called Dell’s Creations on a semi-residential stretch of Danforth Avenue.
We have “no average customer,” Caso says. “A lot of women, people from all walks of life, old, young. The minimum age is 21—death is the maximum age.”—Kate Rounds Caso’s Gun-A-Rama
176 Danforth Ave.