A business owner in National City, Calif., claims politics are behind recent attempts by city officials to have him remove a storefront billboard featuring the silhouette of an AR-15-style rifle.
“The sign is not coming down. I will be in jail or dead before that sign comes down,” Dimitri Karras, a former United States Marine and the CEO of Ares Armor, said in a recent interview with Guns.com.
Ares Armor is known in its community for specializing in do-it-yourself firearm projects and for opposing anti-Second Amendment groups. For example, the company actually registered the domain “SenatorFeinstein.com” so they could link their website to the notoriously anti-gun Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Trouble began in November when the former Marine had the sign on the in National City store refaced. Just a few days after the work was done, the company learned second hand that a City Council member was reportedly unhappy with the sign, according to a statement on Ares’ website.
Later, on Jan. 18, Ares was issued a citation for having the sign refaced without the “without the necessary permits.”
Ares contests the citation, arguing that in all the years the building has existed, before and after the company moved in, city officials have never complained of signs on its property.
“The Local Government of National City thinks it is acceptable to re-interpret their own city code to suite their political agenda if a message appears that does not suite their liking,” Karras said in a statement on the company’s website.
“They have chosen to attack us based on opposing political views,” he added. “They have abused their elected positions in order to silence those who do not agree with them. We will not be removing our sign. I will go to jail first. If it’s a fight they want, it is a fight they shall have.”
For his part, Ron Morrison, Mayor of National City, argues that the citation has everything to do with the city’s ordinances and nothing to do with harassing a local business owner. The mayor explained in an interview with Guns.com that the city “revised their general plan in 1997 to ban rooftop signs.”
“Existing signs, like the one on the building that Ares Armor now occupies, were grandfathered, however in 2012 the city changed their ordinance for the grandfather to break if any building was taken over by a new tenant,” Guns.com notes, citing the mayor’s explanation. “Since Ares moved in at the end of 2013, the city contends that the sign is now illegal.”
Morrison is adamant that the city is merely trying to enforce regulations and that it’s not trying to make an example out of a pro-Second Amendment business.
“The sign had been up there for decades, that’s not an argument,” Morrison said.
“Our ordinance is content-neutral. It has nothing to do with the content of the sign. We told them they can take the exact same sign, the same graphics, and put it on the front of their building,” he said. “That’s what the whole issue is. This doesn’t have anything to do with the Second Amendment, or the First Amendment. They have every right to put that message on their building if they want to.”
But Karras, who has been chronicling the entire ordeal on his company’s website, isn’t buying this explanation.
“The appeal was railroaded and denied,” Karras told Guns.com.
“The city now wants us to spend a ridiculous amount of money in another appeal, but what we are looking at is to see if we can file in federal court before doing that because it is evident the decision is already made before we can get there,” he added. “It’s ludicrous the stuff they are trying to pull right now. They are sticking to their guns.”