As he struggled to realize his dream of opening a Parkville gun shop, Rob Shiflett turned to the figure he considers top gun: God himself.
His prayers answered, Shiflett, a self-described born-again Christian, decided to return the favor. The Army veteran named the Harford Road gun shop he opened in August Christian Soldier.
Some local ministers have not taken kindly to the name, but Shiflett, 37, is standing his ground, arguing that modern spiritual warfare calls for contemporary weaponry.
"I'm a Christian, and I'm a soldier. I thought Christian Soldier would be a good name," said Shiflett, standing behind a handgun-filled glass counter recently with several H&K; semiautomatic rifles displayed on the wall behind him. By the door, two plastic boxes held religious tracts for his customers. "I was asking God to get this business started. How could I turn my back on Him?" he said.
Shiflett describes himself as a gun collector -- "I hardly even shoot" -- who was able to turn his hobby into a livelihood. He runs the shop on a variable schedule, to accommodate his hours on his other job as a Baltimore County paramedic.
He said that before deciding on the name for his shop, he consulted his pastor at Central Baptist Church of Essex. "I didn't want to offend anybody," he said.
He remembered seeing trucks on the highway emblazoned with the initials of a company called Guaranteed Overnight Delivery, G.O.D. "I always saw that, and I was offended. I thought I didn't want to be in that guy's shoes come Judgment Day," he said, adding he chose something he thought not to be sacrilegious. "I mentioned [Christian Soldier] to my pastor, and he said, 'Hey, I think that's a great name.' "
Shiflett, who was born and raised in Parkville and spent 17 years in the Army, the Army Reserve and the National Guard, said that at first he didn't want to open his shop on Harford Road, already home to two gun merchants. But he saw a "for rent" sign in the window of a shop next to a Fraternal Order of Police lodge and decided to take a look. His daughter accompanied him.
"It turned out it was owned by my daughter's Sunday school teacher from Central Baptist," he said. "What's weird is she was praying for a Christian to rent the place, and I was praying for a place to go. So it all worked out."
Shiflett said he had religious inspiration in naming his shop and that the response has been overwhelmingly positive, but acknowledges getting three or four complaints from people who have seen the shop's name on the window flanked by two Christian symbols of fish and have come into the shop to give him a piece of their gospel.
"One lady came in, and she said, 'I don't think Jesus would have approved of guns,' " Shiflett said. He responded with the Gospel story of Jesus clearing the money-changers from the temple in Jerusalem. "I said, 'If he had a pistol at his side, he probably would have shot a few rounds in the air.' "
The Rev. David Asplin, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church down the block on Harford Road, passes the shop every day. He said he is troubled by the linking of Jesus and firearms.
"I'm concerned about the use of violence in our society, and certainly I don't find it something that Christians would promote as a means to solving any human problem," he said.
Monsignor Thomas Baumgartner, pastor of St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church across the street, said the shop's name makes him feel "uneasy."
"That kind of reminds me of the Crusades in the Middle Ages, which don't have a very happy reputation. It doesn't seem to me to be very Christian to be taking up arms," he said. "But my other concern is this is within about a block and a half of our school with 750 kids. It's within two blocks of a large Catholic parish church and St. John's Lutheran Church. Here you have two churches and one large school, and having a gun shop so close, it just doesn't seem right."
Shiflett said he doesn't see any problem with the name. "All throughout the Bible, in the Old Testament and the New Testament, God was always supportive of his people being strong," he said.
The name has caused some confusion. "I had one person who thought it was a Christian bookstore. She called me and asked if I sold Bibles," he said. "Another thought it was a Christian karate school. There was a kid who saw the fish on the front and thought it was a fish store."
He has received calls from militiamen but is not one, and they aren't part of his clientele.
Many of his customers, like him, are born-again Christians, Shiflett said. "I think I'm finding certain Christians prefer to buy from me because I am a Christian, even if my prices aren't the lowest," he said.
But the business is nonsectarian. One of his best customers is an atheist.
"He doesn't believe in God," Shiflett said, "but he says he can trust me because I'm a Christian."
Pub Date: 6/20/98