A lot of tone-deaf things have been said on both sides of the gun debate.
But if you thought the National Rifle Association’s supposed “buy one, give one” gun campaign was too ridiculous to be true, then you were right.
A press release today purporting to be from the NRA, announced that the behemoth lobbying organization was teaming with gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson to “get guns into the hands of statistically under-armed Americans from homosexuals to the elderly to besieged urban communities.” The model is basically described as TOMS Shoes but for guns.
More alarming, the website ShareTheSafety.org, which convincingly replicates the NRA’s official website, states that those guns will be donated to places with the “highest incidences of police, security guard, and vigilante violence against unarmed citizens,” which includes—you guessed it—Chicago. Our West Englewood neighborhood, as well as urban crime hotspots like East St. Louis and West Oakland, makes the list.
The NRA refuted the claims pretty quickly. MarketWatch reported a spokeswoman’s official denial, adding that the NRA had forwarded the info to its legal team. Smith & Wesson also denied involvement, according to reports.
So, who put all this time into the fake campaign? A cursory search shows that the owner of the ShareTheSafety.org domain name used a privacy blocker to hide their identity. The same goes for NRApress.org, the dummy site where the press release was first posted. (Official NRA websites are registered directly to the National Rifle Association HQ.) Most of the links on the site direct back to real NRA websites, and all the contact email addresses on the site are linked to the ShareTheSafety.org domain.
I called the phone number listed on the press release, and oddly enough, a real human person answered the phone claiming to be “Hensley Cocker,” the self-proclaimed Program Director (“capital P, capital D") of Share Your Safety and supposed NRA member. In the ensuing 11-minute call, he 100 percent adhered to the conceit of the hoax, claiming the program started two years ago, and detailing how they were inspired by the “activism regarding shootings of unarmed African Americans,” as well as Sandy Hook, TOMS Shoes, and Warby Parker.
When I informed him of the NRA’s vehement denials that his program was affiliated with the national organization, “Cocker” said it was disappointing and confusing. He claimed it was because of a schism in the NRA that had been bubbling up between those who supported Colt or Smith & Wesson. He even quoted Wayne LaPierre’s famous line about law enforcement being “jack-booted thugs.” Finally he claimed a protester was disturbing his launch event at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and excused himself from the call.
NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker denied everything he said. “This is just a complete hoax,” she said. “There is absolutely no affiliation with the NRA.” She outright laughed at the claim of a schism within the NRA between the two gun brands, and she said the name “Hensley Cocker” didn’t ring any bells and that he had no affiliation with the group.
Last, I ran a Google reverse image search on the photos from testimonial section, and it appears the “Sam Stevenson” photo (purportedly of a gun buyer eager to give to the needy) was pulled from a pro-gun site called The Truth About Guns.
I couldn’t find the source photo for the second testimonial, from “Lamar Roberts” of Chicago, who apparently would be the recipient of such a gun. He supposedly said: “I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life and it seems like every year more and more people in my neighborhood get shot and killed by security guards, cops, and vigilantes. The only way to be sure you survive is to defend yourself, and I’m grateful to finally be able to do that.”
This may leave you with a question: Is it legal to give away a gun for free? Yes. Yes, it is.