Much has changed in the 60 years since Clyde Blamberg’s late father, also named Clyde, opened Clyde’s Sport Shop in Lansdowne, selling worms to fishermen from a roadside stand before building a small store.
There are not as many “hardcore fishermen,” said Blamberg, who took over the shop alongside his brother William “Bill” Blamberg after their father’s death in the 1980s.
Hunting grounds are diminishing, and “there’s not as many people getting outside as we would like,” he said.
The 77-year-old Blamberg said one thing, however, is still the same: the demand for firearms.
"You have people that, you gotta have one more,” Blamberg said. “Once you get hooked, and you get out there and either hunt or target shoot, if you enjoy it, it’s a good pastime.”
The inside of Clyde’s, a one-story brick building on Hammonds Ferry Road a half-mile from the Baltimore City line, is covered in camouflage and neon yellow fishing lures, and smells faintly of cigarette smoke. Rifles line the back walls above ammunition, behind a locked case of handguns. A poster of the Second Amendment declaring the “right to bear arms” hangs above the door to the back workshop.
Blamberg and 11-year employee Rich Bohle said that during the current deer hunting season in Maryland, the shop is busy with customers from all over, from Lansdowne to Catonsville to West Virginia.
Blamberg estimated that “95 percent of the community” is supportive of the shop. Still, selling firearms in a state known for its strict gun laws comes with growing challenges, he said.
Last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case against a Maryland gun control measure — one Blamberg called “very unconstitutional” — that passed in 2013 as a response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.
The law requires Marylanders to apply for a license to buy a handgun, and bans a list of firearms deemed “assault weapons.” It also restricts magazine capacity to 10 rounds. The court’s decision left the law in place.
The regulations affect the sales process at Clyde’s, which sells both handguns, which require a license, and rifles and shotguns, which do not. Helping customers understand regulations — and turning down a sale when one does not qualify — can be a challenge, Blamberg said.
In addition to adhering to regulations, selling guns in Maryland can also draw public criticism. According to a federal registry, Maryland had 474 licensed gun dealers as of October, a number that could include individuals, gun shops, pawn shops and security companies.
Chuck Spafford, owner of Lansdowne’s other gun shop, Tyler Firearms, declined an interview, saying he had been misquoted in the past.
“Our industry is a touchy industry,” Spafford said.
Despite industry critics and rekindled discussion about regulation of firearms as Baltimore City’s homicide rate rises, national gun sales in the opening days of this holiday season have been strong, said Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for firearms dealers.
Shooting sports, Bazinet said, are growing in popularity nationwide, something Blamberg said he sees in his own store. Target shooting could be getting a boost in Baltimore County as well with a proposed “Guntry Club” range in the works for Owings Mills.
Counterintuitively, selling in a blue state, Bohle said, “helps.”
“Every time somebody from that party opens their mouth,” Bohle said, referring to the Democratic party, “we sell hundreds of guns.” In Maryland, registered Democrats outnumber Republican voters 2-to-1, according to state elections board statistics.
Blamberg declined to provide the number of firearms sold in a given month or year, but said annual sales are in the “hundreds.” Sales during the holiday season are “fair,” he said, but “nothing special.”
Overall, however, he said sales have been more sluggish than in the past, because under President Donald Trump’s administration people do not expect new gun control measures to be implemented. “People are saying, ‘I ain’t in a hurry to get anything,’ ” Blamberg said.
Blamberg said 2013 was a “banner year” for sales.
Sales nationally spiked as well — according to FBI statistics, instant background checks, which retailers run before selling someone a gun, nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013. In Maryland, people knew buying handguns would soon require a license after the 2013 gun-control measure took effect, Blamberg said, so they all came at once to buy them up before it did.
In 2010, a group of Baltimore clergy protested Clyde’s Sport Shop after a 2008 Abell Foundation report claimed Clyde’s was the second-largest source of guns recovered at Baltimore crime scenes over a 15-month period in 2006 and 2007.
The clergy, affiliated with a national group called “Heeding God’s Call, a Movement to End Gun Violence," asked Blamberg to sign a voluntary code meant to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the “Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership.” The code was developed as a partnership between Walmart and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now part of Everytown for Gun Safety, which seeks to prevent gun violence.
The code itself is controversial. Bazinet, of the trade association, called it “an unnecessary and politically motivated intrusion into an industry where participants conduct themselves with a great deal of responsibility and care.”
Blamberg said he refused to sign it.
“This code had 10 items on it — nine of them we already did,” Blamberg said.
He said he took issue with agreeing to use a computerized system that ,would alert the store if a customer had previously bought a gun from them that had been recovered at a crime scene. That system, he said, would require them to send in data on customers, which Bohle called an “invasion of privacy.”
Jen Pauliukonis, president of advocacy group Marylanders Against Gun Violence, said such fears are unwarranted.
“Whereas you have this myth and this fear that these types of policies can be used to hurt gun owners, in reality it’s just to help law enforcement,” Pauliukonis said.
After Clyde’s said no, the clergy decided to stage a protest outside the store. Blamberg said he called a Pennsylvania store that had also been the target of protests.
“I said, ‘What did you do?’” Blamberg said. “He says, ‘We had a party.’”
Clyde’s took the advice: They held a “customer appreciation” day on the same day as the protest, Blamberg said, complete with barbecue and military tanks. Blamberg’s wife, Jean Blamberg, who he met when she came into the store to buy a rifle, made a banner saying “No, no, no, no, no” to signing the code. When the clergy scheduled another protest less than six months later, the shop held another party, Bohle said.
Blamberg said he does not consider the shop responsible for crimes committed using guns they sold. The sales, he said, were all legal, and every customer passed a background check.
"They were broken into, or stolen or whatever,” Blamberg said. "It happens. It’s not our fault. If we hadn’t sold them the gun, somebody in Glen Burnie would’ve sold it to them.”
Pauliukonis said that research backs up that claim: Many guns on the black market, she said, are stolen, whether from a retailer or from a gun owner’s car.
To help prevent theft, Blamberg and Bohle said they encourage customers to buy safes and locks, as well as to record their gun’s serial number so it can be reported it to the police if it is lost or stolen.
Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, however, also requires gun shops to be vigilant about preventing straw purchases, in which someone with a clean record purchases a gun to give or sell to someone who would not qualify, such as a minor or convicted felon. Clyde’s has a poster on the wall next to the handguns with a slogan from a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives campaign: “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy.”
“I can tell,” Bohle said, saying customers’ demeanor or lack of knowledge about what they are buying often tips him off that they are attempting a straw purchase. "It’s easy to spot. Criminals are criminals and they all think they're smart, but they’re just not smart enough.”
The store’s owners also have an outsized task in protecting the store itself from theft. Blamberg said the store, which is lined with security cameras, has experienced multiple attempted break-ins and two armed robberies.
In 1991, armed robbers ambushed him in the early morning and stole close to 19 guns, some that he said were never recovered. And last year, his 75-year-old brother Bill was shot at during an attempted robbery while working at the store, but was not hit. The robbers from 2016 were caught and convicted, and no guns were lost that time, Clyde Blamberg said.
After the first robbery, the store installed metal grates that enclose the handgun case, Blamberg said. They did not increase security after the second incident.
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“I don’t know what else we could do,” Blamberg said.