NEW YORK -- The United Bodegas of America announced Sunday a controversial plan to arm its workers so they can protect themselves from criminals.
CBS New York spoke to concerned community members, and to bodega employees who insisted it's necessary.
"Sometimes I do late nights and I do not feel safe at all," bodega worker Nasser Nassar said.
Nassar, who works at a bodega on Eighth Avenue and 142nd Street, said he has been threatened too many times to count, so he is in support of the initiative to seek gun licenses for workers.
"We actually need a weapon to back ourselves up, yes," Nassar said.
Just an hour before CBS New York spoke to Nassar, police confirmed a man in his 30s was shot to death at a shop next door.
Nassar said it was another awful example of why he plans to get his gun license.
"Make sure they are ready to protect themselves in case of a physical attack, in case of an armed attack," said Fernando Mateo, head of the United Bodegas of America.
Mateo said his association has quietly been helping workers obtain carry permits since June 2022,.
"Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling right now, able to break down the barriers that were preventing us from applying for a pistol," Mateo said.
However, many community members and local leaders said they are worried more guns will lead to more violence.
"I'm not sure having a gun is going to stop violent behavior," said Dr. Iesha Sekou, founder of Street Corner Resources. "I think we're going to more likely see the gun used in a way that it should not have been."
"Having these bodega personnel with firearms ... if something does go down in that bodega, now police have another firearm that they have to react to," security expert Manny Gomez said.
Gomez is also a former FBI special agent.
"People who don't have the training that law enforcement and others have having a firearm ... in comes a shoplifter, and they get into words with a shoplifter and out comes the firearm, and the situation is immediately dangerously escalated," Gomez said.
Mateo, however, said bodega employees have been training with former law enforcement officers.
"They're not out here to provoke any incidents. We are trained to de-escalate situations," Mateo said.
Mateo said of the nearly 15,000 members he represents, a few hundred have already obtained their gun licenses and dozens more are working towards their permits.
CBS New York reached out to the NYPD for comment, but is still waiting to hear back. We did get a response from Mayor Eric Adams' office, which said it has a plan to combat retail theft with a task force focused on prevention and increased enforcement.
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