Gun dealer favors personal touch, views customers as 'clients'
Ledyard — When gun purchases soared during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among Blacks, Will Rose knew it was time to get in on the action.
Clearly, he reasoned, there was not just record demand for gun sales but also a need to ensure that the many first-time gun buyers flooding the market had access to proper firearms training and education.
With that in mind, the 55-year-old Rose, an ex-Marine with decades of law-enforcement experience and a full-time job in nuclear security at Electric Boat in Groton, founded BMC Firearms in October 2020, a rare Black-owned gun dealership in Connecticut.
He operates the by-appointment business from the basement of his Iron Street home.
“It’s like any gun shop,” Rose said in a recent interview.
By that, he meant the place sells guns — pistols, revolvers, shotguns and rifles — as well as such accessories as pepper spray, sights and locks. But much else about BMC Firearms is unlike most other dealerships.
Rose, the only employee, except for his girlfriend, Lisa Brooks, a certified firearms instructor, interacts with customers through social media and his website at bmcfirearms.com, and schedules one-on-one appointments.
“I’m dealing with clients, not customers,” he said.
“I found him from a Facebook post,” said Tony Sabilia, a Waterford businessman who was a Ledyard Town Councilor when he came across BMC Firearms, an encounter he called “a happy coincidence.”
“It makes sense to buy local,” Sabilia said, noting that gun dealers are scarce in the area. “Will tends to work with people he knows.”
Rose, who spent five years with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Police Department after 18 years with police in Newark, N.J., launched BMC Firearms after obtaining the necessary local approvals and a federal firearms license, or FFL, through the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
He said BMC seeks to be a one-stop location where a client can buy a gun, be trained in its use and get help filing permit applications.
“Gun shops can be very intimidating,” Rose said. “With me, I assume you don’t know anything — but if you do that’s fine.”
He owns property in Voluntown where BMC provides firing-range time for gun buyers and conducts classes required as part of the state’s pistol permitting process.
Many BMC clients have gun permits but have never purchased a weapon, Rose said. In some cases, gunowners and their family members sign up for safety training. In most cases, he said, the desire for self-protection is the motivation for a gun purchase.
Rose said roughly equal numbers of white and Black clients buy guns from him but that Blacks outnumber whites when it comes to pursuing training.
He said eight members of a Black church group from Manchester — three women and five men — sought basic firearms training at BMC, spurred by the 2015 shooting in which nine members of a Black church in Charleston, S.C., were murdered.
“My goal is to get African Americans more educated about guns, more acclimated to weapon safety,” Rose said. “If we educate youth about guns, they won’t be so casual and do something serious. If they learn to respect it, they won’t mess with it. People of color have been buying weapons but not getting trained.”
Neville Brooks, the retired Hartford deputy police chief who last fall served as superintendent of the New London Police Department while Chief Brian Wright was on administrative leave, is among Rose’s clients.
“I purchased a couple of firearms from him,” Brooks, of East Hartford, said. “People come to me all the time asking where they can get the training they need for a pistol permit. I’ve sent several people from the Hartford area to him to be trained. I’ve sent doctors and nurses. They all come back with rave reviews about how safety conscious he is and how comfortable he makes them feel.”
Brooks, who met Rose through Rose’s work at Electric Boat, said he was confident in referring people to Rose because of Rose's background in law enforcement and his steady demeanor.
“You don't want someone erratic to be training people in how to handle a gun,” Brooks said. “I can sleep well sending people to him.”
Cornell Lewis, a Hartford-area activist whose Self-Defense Brigade has provided Black Lives Matters protesters with protection at events around the state, also spoke well of Rose and BMC Firearms. Last October, Lewis attended a New London rally in support of Crystal Caldwell, the Mystic hotel clerk who alleged she was the victim of a racially motivated attack.
“I was looking at some firearms and a friend of mine suggested I check out BMC,” said Lewis, who has not purchased a gun from Rose. “He (Rose) called me right back and suggested I go to his website, which I did look at. I found him to be engaging and very community-oriented.”
Rose said his plan is to retire from his full-time job in several years and to devote himself to expanding BMC Firearms in Voluntown. The company’s initials reveal another of his interests.
BMC stands for Black Man Camping, he said.