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You don’t hear much from the tiny northwest Alabama town of Leesburg. The town of just over 900 sits nestled between Weiss Lake and the popular rock climbing attraction that is Cherokee Rock Village. But recently, a gun shop in the town has been getting international attention after a story about a sign out front went viral online.

The sign at Leesburg Guns read, “CONGRATULATIONS TO GEORGE FLOYD ON 2 YEARS OF SOBRIETY.”

Since the story has been spread around the nation, owner Jeannie Nichols said the business has received many hate messages and calls from people from all over, some even threatening to shoot up the sign and many calling her racist.

Over the years, some of her signs have gotten a lot of attention. Nichols said she found out a long time ago that the messages she displays can get out quickly.

“Years ago, when a woman wrote us a bad check on purpose, and I put her name out there and told her to come pick up her bad check. She didn’t like that,” Nichols said. “And I have found that works really, really well, because every single person that’s wrote a bad check, I have put their name out.”

Nichols said she always warns customers before putting their names on the sign, and she said it has worked.

But she put the sign about George Floyd together after she said Barack Obama disrespectfully compared the death of Floyd to the killing of children at a Uvalde, Texas school. Obama Tweeted, “As we grieve the children of Uvalde today, we should take time to recognize that two years have passed since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer. His killing stays with us all to this day, especially those who loved him."

“It ticked me off good,” Nichols said. “But it has nothing to do with the fact that George Floyd was Black, it has to do with the fact of what George Floyd did and that they’re honoring him. That man doesn’t need to be honored.”

WVTM 13, in Birmingham, first reported on the sign. After that, the phones started ringing at Leesburg Guns.

“We get phone calls [and] they absolutely cuss us,” Nichols said. “...These people are mental. That’s all I can say.”

Nichols said she has been called a lot of names, including “redneck” and “hillbilly.”

“My sign was not racist,” said Nichols. “Even though they want to spin it that way, it had nothing to do with his color. It had to do with what kind of person he was. People seem to worship him."

After the death of Floyd, mass riots took place in several U.S. cities, including Birmingham. Protesters screamed for justice following video showing the actions that led to Floyd’s death. Nichols said she also did not agree with the way Floyd was treated by law enforcement. In fact, she said she saw the video of Floyd’s murder and didn’t understand why then Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kept Floyd restrained with a knee to the neck for over nine minutes. Floyd died on May 25, 2020, and Chauvin was subsequently convicted of murder in his death.

“Why is he doing that?” Nichols recalled thinking after seeing the video two years ago. “Why? George Floyd is on his belly, handcuffed. Why don’t they just stand up, leave him laying there, and call an ambulance?"

Nichols said she thinks the officers should’ve gotten him help, but she also said she doesn’t see why Floyd would be used as an example of heroic actions.

“Obama could’ve gotten up and done his praise of George Floyd and never mentioned those kids,” said Nichols. “And then in a different way, he could have said, ‘By the way, let’s remember those children and their parents.' But he compared George Floyd’s death to their death. There’s no comparison.”

No comparison to the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers, Nichols said. 

Nichols said there are plenty of other people who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement or others that she feels should be used as an example instead of George Floyd.

“There have been a lot of Black people killed that were really innocent, that they could have made their point with,” Nichols said.

After the death of Floyd, who had a criminal record, an autopsy revealed he had methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system. 

The reporter for WVTM 13 interviewed a person who did not want to be identified. In the video interview, you can only see his feet. The man told the reporter that the people he has talked to were “kind of done with this place.” 

However, Nichols said business is booming.

As a business owner, Nichols has the right to display a sign of her choice in front of her gun store. Although she has received a lot of negative attention, she said she has also seen positive feedback from the sign. She said one man from out of town had something positive to say on social media.

“He said, ‘This makes me want to go shop there, I think I’ll go buy guns from them,” said Nichols. “So, we get that.”

1819 News asked some locals about their stance on the gun store’s sign. While refusing to go on the record, the majority of residents said they support the store’s right to free speech. Others did not want to comment at all.

“It depends on their political views,” Nichols said. “I mean, they hate us anyway because we’re White, because we’re Conservative, because we support Trump, and because of guns. They just hate us anyway, and this gives them a reason to jump on, with their thumbs [making a hand gesture with her phone] and do their little hate stuff.

“I do know that they called Town Hall, they called the police department. The police chief told me that one caller wanted them to revoke our business license because of our sign.

“It’s on my property, I have the First Amendment right, and it was not anything vulgar. It had nothing to do with race, but I could put ‘God Bless America’ out there and they would find fault with it.”

Negative reviews on Yelp have led the online crowdsourcing review site to halt reviews on Leesburg Guns. 

“Recently, someone associated with this business was accused of racist behavior, resulting in an influx of people posting their views to this page,” Yelp! said in a statement. “Racism is reprehensible and has no place on Yelp, and we unequivocally reject racism or discrimination in any form.”

The negative reviews were posted by people from all over the nation, and 266 of the 267 reviews were posted after the story about the George Floyd sign was shared online.

The website said anyone wanting to leave a review can revisit the site at a later date.

“While we understand the desire to warn others about racist behavior associated with a business, all reviews on Yelp must reflect an actual first-hand consumer experience,” the statement continued. 

Truly W., from Iowa, posted, “Would give 0 stars to these backwards primitive hillbilly cousin loving freaks if I could but yelp only lets you leave a 1. these boot licking cucks will rot in hell. i've put a multi-generational curse on anyone associated with this store.”

Allison H., from California, said, “There's much better gun shops in the area. Better selection and prices. I've also seen the workers be very rude to women especially. Clearly don't appreciate business unless it's from a select group of people. Yee-Haw.”

Nichols said these people are clearly not from the area and are not legally able to purchase a firearm in Alabama.

While Nichols and her husband own the store together, she said her husband, who is a veterinarian and a Cherokee County Commissioner, does not take part in the day-to-day operations of the store.

“As far as my husband goes, he has nothing to do with the signs or what I put on the signs,” Nichols said. “Sometimes he doesn’t agree with them, but I’m pretty strong-willed. And if somebody tells me I can’t do something or, ‘Don’t do something,’ then, I’m going to do it. Now, if they ask me, ‘Please don’t do it,’ then, I’ll think about it.”

Nichols said because of her strong support for firearms, she will stick to her guns.

“Without guns, we will not be able to protect ourselves from the government, we won’t be able, when Joe Biden’s America makes it where we don’t have food on the shelves, without guns we can’t go kill [food],” said Nichols. “... It’s our right.”

The latest sign reads, “YA KNOW WHAT PROTECTS THE 1ST AMENDMENT? THE 2ND!”

Leesburg Guns has been in business since 2005. The gun shop sells, cleans and does minor repairs and additions to firearms. Business has increased and decreased for Nichols over the years, but she said a lot of times, national stories help sell guns.

“When certain politicians open their mouths, it makes business better,” said Nichols. “And that’s what’s happening to us right now.

FBI background checks for gun purchases spike following major events such as mass shootings, despite the simultaneous call for more gun control. According to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the steepest hikes in checks since 2012 happened after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, after the San Bernardino mass shooting in 2015, and in March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. While there are an average of one million background checks per month in the U.S., there were more than two million following mass protests after the death of George Floyd.

“As far as my First Amendment right, I’m not sitting down and shutting up,” Nichols said.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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