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Why this Manhattan gun store didn’t actually sell guns

The Gun Shop opened in Manhattan for two days last week. (Courtesy of States United To Prevent Gun Violence.)

Last week, sandwiched between a row of shops and apartments, you may have noticed that a store hawking firearms miraculously opened for two days on Manhattan’s Lower East Side

Had you ventured inside and asked the gruff-sounding owner whether you could take a closer look at, say, a revolver, you probably would have encountered the following sales pitch:

“…this revolver, it’s the easiest gun we have to use. It’s our most popular one. It’s a 22-caliber, six-inch revolver,” the clerk begins. “It’s also a gun that a five-year-old found in his parents’ bedroom, went down and shot his nine-month-old baby brother with it.”

If that sounds a lot like the least effective sales pitch of all time, there’s a reason for that.

An overwhelmingly depressing and frank sales pitch — the kind you won’t hear at any other gun store in the country — was exactly what States United To Prevent Gun Violence was, well, shooting for when it did the unimaginable last week and opened a pretend gun shop in a city known for having some of the strictest gun-control laws in the nation.

“Our goal was to grab people’s attention,” New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Executive Director Leah Gunn Barrett told The Washington Post. “Gun owners often believe that firearms make them safer, but having a gun in your home actually makes you far less safe for homicide, suicide and domestic violence.”

The idea to create a fake store (and a mock gun-selling website) arose last fall when a newly released Gallup poll revealed that less than half of all Americans favor stricter gun laws, Barrett said. That’s when SUPGV, of which NYAGV is affiliated, decided it needed to push back.

Instead of organizing a news conference or launching a conventional awareness campaign, the team decided to try something else entirely: a bold social experiment in the form of a fake commercial enterprise full of hidden cameras.

Barrett added that her group is particularly interested in reaching parents who own firearms.

“Gun suicide among American youth aged 10-19 is at a 12-year high and in 82 percent of the cases of kids killing themselves with guns, the gun belonged to a family member, usually a parent,” she said. “If a parent must own a gun, then they should be responsible and lock it up to keep their kids from accessing it.”

The store — which was not operational — opened for two days last week in an art gallery that was transformed for the occasion. The shop was outfitted with about 100 unloaded, authentic-looking prop weapons (like those used in movies) and the words “Gun Store” were added above an entrance advertising “pistols,” “rifles,” “shotguns” and “used guns.” A tag was attached to each gun detailing historical instances in which similar types of weapons had been used in killings.

An actor manned the front counter; camouflage vests and an American flag were added for atmosphere; and an NYPD official was on scene.

“The people who came in were actually seriously considering buying a gun,” Barrett said. “We thought that showing the guns and their histories and getting people to think twice about owning a firearm would be an instructive thing to experience.”

And with that, the experiment began…

Numerous customers walked into the store, Barrett said, most seeking a gun for self-protection.

“I’m pro-Second Amendment, you know, so it’s kinda hard to find that in New York City,” one customer says in a video published about the two-day shop-a-thon (below).

Customers who hung around, the video reveals, endured horror stories attached to each weapon, leading to numerous awkward moments and pained looks.

“Collectors love this one,” the clerk tells one customer as he grips the weapon. “Adam Lanza’s mom had this in her collection, too, until he took this and several other guns and killed her and and went down to Sandy Hook and killed six teachers and 20 innocent children. Twenty little kids, gone, like that.”

Geez, man. We get the idea. Did it work? In some cases, at least, it appeared to.

“It made me think, ‘I’m not going to buy that gun,'” one man says, leaving the store.

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