Last week, a mysterious website popped up for a program called Share the Safety, described as a joint venture by the NRA and Smith & Wesson. According to the site’s home page, the organization supports a “Buy One, Give One” policy aimed at arming less fortunate families and individuals across the country. Like a perverse cousin of Tom’s Shoes, Share the Safety promises to match each purchase of a handgun by donating an additional weapon to an in-need neighborhood of the buyer’s choice. Fittingly, the program is set to go live on the Fourth of July.
If all this sounds just a bit too outlandish to be real, your instincts are right. Speaking to Buzzfeed news, an NRA representative confirmed that “Share the Safety” is a hoax and promised, “There’s no way that the NRA or Smith & Wesson would be behind a program like that.”
Soon after, artist-activists The Yes Men took credit for the website. Headed by Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos (also known as Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno), The Yes Men have been pulling elaborate stunts since 2000. A favorite subject of theirs is ring-wing corporate hypocrisy, and they have previously lampooned huge entities such as Dow Chemical and ExxonMobil.
Share the Wealth may be their pièce de résistance. Part of what makes the satire so believable is its understated appearance. At first glance, it looks like any other political site. It’s got email list sign-up boxes, rousing testimonials, and numerous photos of racially diverse Americans laughing and playing sports.
However, a closer look at the pictures reveals that many of the fun-loving subjects are carrying concealed weapons. The website’s map of outreach neighborhoods is sprinkled with data about intercity gun violence. Then of course there’s the glaring option to purchase one of three pistols with just the click of a button. It’s a brilliant satirical message, showing just how easy it is to acquire a deadly weapon in America.
Perhaps the satire’s only flaw is that it’s almost a little too close to reality.
The Yes Men even staged a live press conference for their program at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. The heavily bearded—and heavily fictional—Hensley Cocker, Director of Share the Safety, took to the stage in front of a small crowd, which included a local chapter of Young Republicans. He expressed the NRA’s new mission to better equip the United States’ most “fatally under-armed,” demographics, which included the elderly, women, and the LGBT community. In Cocker’s own words, “The only safe gay is an armed gay.”
“Share the Safety,” follows in the footsteps of other anti-gun stunts earlier this year. The Rachel Maddow Show featured faux New York City gun shop that opened the eyes of would-be buyers by sharing the destructive history behind individual weapons. In March, a user on Change.org started a facetious petition to allow the open carry of firearms at the 2016 Republican National Convention. For better or worse, the petition currently has over 55,000 signatures.
It’s hard to tell whether or not Congress will pass any effective gun control measures in the near future, but at least there are creators out there like The Yes Men to take the Second Amendment zealots down a notch. While NRA members are harping on about their rights, we can’t forget about our right to call out their bullshit.
Photo: Handguns turned in from the public as part of the “Gun Turn-in” event where a gift card is given for every firearm turned over to Chicago Police are seen in a box at Universal Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young