If you ask Tobias Shippley — and at least a half-dozen of his neighbors — the last thing Point Breeze needs is more guns. A neighborhood scarred and scared by a history of murders and shootings gives new definition to gun-shy, explained the lifelong South Philly resident.
"Every night, there’s some shooting. Every night. You can hear it," Shippley said.
That’s why the retired city sanitation worker, his wife and many of their neighbors are up in arms over Emile "Wingy" Kline’s plans to open a gun shop inside his home on the 1800 block of South 19th Street.
"There’s enough trouble around here as it is. I don’t think we need somebody selling guns around here," said neighbor Alvin Satchell. "These same guns are going to be used to shoot innocent people. They never aim at who they’re shooting for — it’s always some innocent children shot."
One of Shippley’s neighbors, who wanted to be identified only by her first name, Karen, said she’s especially nervous about the gun shop because she has teenage children, as well as nieces, nephews and grandchildren who visit frequently. "I would never feel safe. Too many children have been hurt already."
But the 68-year-old Kline doesn’t care what anybody thinks of his plan, really.
"Tough crap," he said. "I’ve lived there 40 years, and I’ve seen my neighborhood change."
Kline’s wife drives a school bus and the couple raised six children in the home with a collection of firearms, he said. But all the guns were always under lock and key. "Guns don’t kill people. People kill people," he said, echoing a mantra of the National Rifle Association.
Kline was living in his neighborhood back when mob boss Angelo Bruno walked the streets. Bruno and his pals played cards at 19th and Sigel, where Kline had one of his two corner markets, he said. In fact, it was Bruno who dubbed him "Wingy," Kline added.
An avid hunter, Kline has a gunsmithing license and federal firearms license. His hunting club is called Brothers of the Bush; many prison guards and detectives number among its members, he said.
In fact, it’s fellow hunters who Kline believes would be his main clients. However, one neighbor pointed out hunting isn’t too popular a pastime in Point Breeze, so the guns could be used for other purposes.
Several residents expressed concern that firearms purchased from Kline would end up in the hands of convicted felons. But Kline called such arguments ridiculous, because to buy a firearm in the first place, a customer must present proper identification and go through an application process.
He maintains his business — Kline Sporting Goods and Firearms — will be strictly mail-order.
"It’s not a gun store. There will be no guns here. There’s no ammunition," he said.
An officer with the police department’s Gun Permit and Tracking Unit begged to differ, though.
The source said it was his understanding that Kline would "work" on guns at his house, given the fact he has a gunsmithing license. The officer also distrusted the businessman’s assurances that all sales would be via mail.
As of now, Kline has all his ducks in order. He rezoned his house as a commercial property and has the required licenses from the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The only go-ahead Kline is waiting on is from the Gun Permit and Tracking Unit.
And, according to Sgt. John Sharkey of the unit, police have a final say in whether someone can open a gun shop.
"Right now, I can tell you that this investigation is ongoing, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to approve [Kline]. Our main thing was the safety factor of the neighbors and surrounding area. That’s what we’re looking hard at," the sergeant said.
Sharkey cited several arguments against issuing Kline a license — the first of which was neighborhood reaction.
Detective John Pelosi conducted 16 in-person interviews last month. "The majority were against it for good reasons," said Sharkey. Kline contended he gave officials a list of people to talk to, but that police instead talked to residents whose children Kline called drug dealers and "junkies."
Secondly, an inspection of Kline’s sales area did not meet police approval, Sharkey said. Finally, the area in which he wants to set up shop is a "high drug area," the sergeant added.
"Because of all these things together, more than likely he will be disapproved," Sharkey told the Review.
But the high crime rate in the area in which Kline intends to open a gun shop does not give him pause.
"There’s violence all over the city, not just in Point Breeze," he said.
Shippley and his neighbors vehemently disagree, and they fear Kline’s shop would only trigger more violence.
Karen voiced concern that perpetrators might target Kline’s shop to steal guns — putting more firearms on the street.
"I’m scared all the time before this came up. I’m scared for my grandchildren," said Satchell’s wife, Josetta. "If I had the money, I’d pack up and leave. And you can print that. It’s just crazy around here."
As it stands, stray bullets have hit a little too close to home for many folks on the 1800 block of South 19th Street.
Last year, Shippley himself suffered a graze wound to his shin while making an escape from a gun battle near his home. And earlier this year, he lost one of his closest friends to a stray bullet that lodged in the victim’s back two years ago — the result of gunfire at 21st and Sigel streets.
In Pennsylvania, it is not illegal to sell firearms out of one’s home, Sharkey said. But Josetta Satchell and her neighbors feel it should be.
"I just think it’s asinine to be able to do something like this in a residential area with all these children here and the violence. [Kline] must think we’re all brain dead, that we would go for this," she said.
Yvonne Bell believed an influx of guns could only exacerbate the neighborhood’s problems.
"There’s enough drugs in this neighborhood as it is. Drugs and guns go hand in glove. We don’t need no more," she said.
Bell witnessed one of Point Breeze’s most tragic drug-related shootings in April 1999.
Nafis Jefferson, 7, was fatally shot by a playmate who thought he was firing a toy gun. Instead, the very real firearm had been placed under a parked car by a drug dealer, police said. To this day, Bell is haunted by the image of the victim’s mother cradling her son’s head that she wrapped in white towels to keep his "brains in as best she could."
Bell said the minute the neighbors find out Kline has sold his first firearm, they will picket his house.
"We’ll fight fire with fire," Shippley added.