A website called Share the Safety has been making rounds on the internet over the past few days, stirring outrage as it purports to be a joint effort between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and arms manufacturer Smith & Wesson to donate a gun to a “less fortunate” US citizen for every gun bought. Investigations quickly revealed it as a hoax, one cooked up by none other than the Yes Men, the artist-activist duo known for launching fake and satirical campaigns on behalf of major organizations from the NYPD to Dow Chemical.
Echoing the business models of Toms and Warby Parker, Share the Safety promises to give a gun to someone living in an “at-risk neighborhood” whenever someone purchases one of three available, limited-edition sidearms. Donors may even pick a location from a selection of 10 neighborhoods around the US.
“You know how important it is to protect your family,” a front-page statement reads. “But you may not know that some of America’s poorest citizens cannot afford to arm themselves against those who would limit their freedoms. That’s why the National Rifle Association is proud to partner with Smith & Wesson to Share the Safety.”
Like the Yes Men’s previous projects, this one is incredibly elaborate, with a sleek website featuring a press release, mission statement, serious fine print, and phone number that, when dialed, is apparently answered by some man named “Hensley Cocker.” There’s even a black-and-white promotional video narrated by a deep-voiced, very sincere speaker, as well as testimonies from a white guy named Sam Stevenson praising the endeavor and from a black man named Lamar Roberts expressing his gratitude. Read it closely, and the website and audio statements do seem a little odd — but it’s tough to feel certain if it’s legitimate or not, making for a pretty scary, uncanny parody of the NRA’s platform. (A sample: “Too many poor Americans have never known the pride and security that comes with owning a firearm. Won’t you help share the freedom and responsibility that you enjoy?”)
There are, though, less subtle hints that this is a joke to ridicule and shame the NRA, particularly in the wake of the Orlando shooting, namely a press conference published on the Yes Men’s YouTube channel that shows a wild-looking, comically bearded man identifying himself as Cocker. He is actually Andy Bichlbaum, one-half of the Yes Men; his partner, Mike Bonanno, also appears as a shifty-eyed Share the Safety representative. In the press conference video, Bichlbaum makes a few statements that are too brazen to imagine even the NRA making in public.
“That’s why we need the gays with us, and not against us, and Share the Safety is committed to getting the word out that the only safe gay is an armed gay,” Bichlbaum says at one point. “We’re also working with Smith & Wesson to develop a line of firearms marketed specifically at the gays. There are already pink guns for women, and we can easily imagine discrete, fashionable, and elegant sidearms with some of the fashion choices that homosexuals make. Designs that might complement a Philippe Starck decor or a fine Versace outfit.”
Now in its preview period, the special store is set to “open” on the fourth of July. We’ll see if it maintains its online presence until then (the NRA has reportedly contacted its attorneys about it), when the Yes Men will hopefully continue blasting gun advocates by setting off some additional fireworks.
Update, 6/30: Share the Safety’s website was temporarily offline following the NRA’s filing of a legal notice; it is one of 38,000 websites hosted by the publishing service Surge that went down as a direct consequence of the NRA’s complaint.
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