This is not a column about gun control.
Or the right to bear arms. Or the right to defend yourself.
It is a column about bad taste and blatant insensitivity being shoved down our throats right here in River City and elsewhere across our state.
Know what I’m talking about? Yup, the gun billboards.
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Here in Columbia, there’s the “Silent Night” one advertising a silencer at the end of a handgun. Then there’s the “Five Golden Rings” one, depicting the butt ends of five gold-colored bullets inside a steely gray gun barrel.
When I saw the golden rings one several weeks ago, it was off-putting. My stomach turned a notch.
Then the Silent Night one turned up.
My stomach did a 360 and I wondered whose idea these billboards were.
Well, the Palmetto State Armory, a local company that sells firearms and munitions, pictures and promotes the billboards on its Facebook page thusly: “We hope you enjoy our Christmas billboards that are featured all over the great state of SC!”
Yes, South Carolina is a great state, but enjoy these billboards?
Given how deep in the gut our state has been kicked by gun violence, I considered what kind of marketing chatter was carried on around the corporate table when this advertising campaign was formulated.
Did folks laugh at the idea of mixing the most peaceful of all Christmas hymns – the one that makes you feel like you were right there in that stable when the babe was born – with a silencer stuck at the end of a handgun?
Did anyone involved in this advertising apocalypse scratch his or her head? Did anyone raise a hand and say, “You know, maybe this isn’t so funny. Maybe this isn’t so good. Maybe this is just a bit over the top for a state where nine decent human beings were gunned down some seven months ago during Bible study at a church in Charleston. Never mind what continues to happen all over the nation.”
So, I called Palmetto State Armory. A nice guy said talking to me was “way past” his pay grade. He passed me along to a shift supervisor who said I had to talk to Adam Ruonala, the company’s chief marketing executive.
Ruonala said he’d “just gotten done with doing a live interview with CNN.” He said there are 30 of these billboards in the Columbia area and “a little over 100 across the state,” including Greenville and Charleston.
He noted that there were “opinions on both sides” about the billboards; that “everybody has a right to defend themselves” and that “all the company is doing is letting people know about the products we provide.”
“We have to grow our business. We have to put food on our employees’ tables. The way to do that is advertising.”
Ruonala made a comparison between advertisements featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales at Christmastime and the promotion of purchasing alcohol to his company’s advertising. Was there really any difference? he wanted to know.
I was at a loss for words.
Ruonala said Palmetto State Armory “wanted people to be able to express themselves” about the billboards by emailing email@example.com.
He also said “We are looking to display our product in a holiday manner – no more, no less.”
Ho. Ho. Ho.
Salley McAden McInerney is a local writer whose novel, Journey Proud, is based upon growing up in Columbia in the early 1960s. The book will be featured on Walter Edgar’s Journal on SC-ETV Radio Dec. 18. Ms. McInerney may be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.