MIDLOTHIAN, Va. - Amid the Confederate flags, anti-Yankee bumper stickers and Civil War relics displayed throughout Bob Moates Sport Shop, a new, rather uncivil war is brewing.
"Ask about the Bloomberg Gun GiveAway" reads a sign taped to the gun shop's register, beckoning customers to enter the drawing named for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose federal lawsuits against gun dealers in five states have drawn the wrath of Virginia's gun enthusiasts.
Bloomberg calls the dealers holding the contest sick. The dealers call Bloomberg words that aren't fit to print.
"This has proved to be a battle royale," said Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League and mastermind of the giveaway, which has boosted business for the two participating store owners. "The truth is, if Bloomberg hadn't picked on Virginia, we wouldn't have gotten involved. But he made the mistake of stepping into Virginia with this."
The Republican mayor has sued 27 out-of-state gun dealers, alleging that they sold firearms illegally to undercover private investigators conducting a sting operation for New York. City officials say the dealers have supplied hundreds of weapons used in New York City crimes. The lawsuits, which name dealers in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia, ask the court to require monitoring of the shops' sales.
Private investigators attempted "straw purchases" at about 45 dealers, in which one person fills out the legal forms and makes the purchase for someone else. The practice is prohibited by federal law and is typically used by those who can't own firearms, such as convicted felons.
Nine dealers, including two in Virginia, have settled with the city, agreeing to be monitored by a court-appointed special master.
The owners of two Virginia stores being sued said they were forced to close because of crushing legal fees. But in January, two other store owners began fighting back with the gun giveaway. Through March 31, customers who spend $100 at either of Bob Moates' stores or Old Dominion Guns and Tackle in Danville are eligible to win a handgun or a rifle, courtesy of the Defense League. The drawing will be held April 19. Among those ineligible to win, as per the official rules: "Mayor Bloomberg and his immediate family members."
Van Cleave said he came up with the idea as a way to boost sales at the stores, which have already shelled out thousands in legal fees.
The contest has only further agitated Bloomberg, who has made gun control a top priority in his second term.
"These are sick people," Bloomberg said in January when questioned about the giveaway at the Mayors Against Illegal Guns summit in Washington, D.C. "And if they think that this is funny, I don't think that the parents or the spouses or the children of those that get killed with illegal guns would find that very entertaining."
Dave Hancock, who has worked at Bob Moates Sport Shop for 25 years, shakes his head at such statements.
"Mr. Bloomberg thinks we're a bunch of sick people," said Hancock, leaning against a display case of handguns. "Well, I think he's an idiot."
Bloomberg and his colleagues say the lawsuits are part of an effort to curb the flow of illegal guns into New York. Mayoral spokesman Jason Post points to New York City police statistics showing that 90 percent of the city's crime guns come from out of state.
But Hancock and other Virginia gun-rights advocates say the lawsuits are nothing more than a publicity stunt and a scheme to drive gun dealers out of business.
Richard Hill, manager of Bob Moates Sport Shop, called the lawsuits a "nice attempt by a politician just trying to get to the White House" and said his store always follows the law.
"The best way to get guns off the street and criminals off the street is to lock 'em up," Hill said. "They seem to want to pick on an old stereotype - it's so easy to get a gun in Virginia and run it up to New York. When quite honestly, you can break into a house anywhere and get anything you like."
Bloomberg's face graces a poster taped to a shotgun rack at Bob Moates, under the words "Here are our worst enemy." Sarah Brady, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle are also pictured, though Bloomberg's face is circled in bright pink highlighter.
The contest has been boosting sales, with several thousand tickets given out so far, Hancock said. The winner will receive a Para-Ordnance handgun worth around $900.
Longtime customer Scott Cashion, 31, of Chesterfield, said he's earned six or seven tickets - and may end up with more to get back at Bloomberg.
"I bought some kind of for spite," he said while perusing a stack of ammunition. "What he's doing is wrong."
Dennis Alverson, owner of Old Dominion Guns and Tackle, is also enjoying brisk business, which he attributes to his customers' contempt for the lawsuits. The winner from his store will get a Browning Varmint Stalker rifle, also worth about $900. "I've been in business 27 years and I've probably had the best February I've ever had," Alverson said. "Nobody's got a great likeness for Bloomberg in this area."