Share the Safety is a vicious, bleak joke, but it's the only kind of joke you can make about the debate over guns in the US.
On Wednesday, less than two weeks after a man walked into an Orlando nightclub and killed 49 people with a semiautomatic rifle, a website appeared announcing that the NRA and Smith & Wesson were launching a new venture called Share the Safety. "You know how important it is to protect your family," the website announced. "But you may not know that some of America's poorest citizens cannot afford to arm themselves against those who would limit their freedoms." The program promised that for every gun bought, one would be "donated" to an "at-risk" neighborhood.
Sending guns to places where the big problem is that too many people have guns is insane, of course, and lots of people suspected the site was a parody. But there was some doubt—the NRA also churns out videos of a former Navy SEAL named Dom Raso (Twitter bio: "Warrior • Athlete • Patriot") yelling about the evils of gun-free zones and soundtracks propaganda videos to horrific nu metal. Would it be crazy to think that they'd actually do this?
Share the Safety is a joke, in turns out, just like the parody petition to allow guns at the Republican National Convention, but it's a joke someone has spent a lot of time on. There's the website, complete with buzzword-centric slogans ("Freedom shouldn't be a privilege of the few") and multiracial stock images; there's a press release made to look like it comes from the NRA; there's video and photo from a fake announcement event at the Ronald Reagan Library. The pranksters even got a phone number with a Fairfax, Virginia, area code, so they could pretend to be based at the NRA's headquarters. When you call the number it's answered by a man who says his name is "Hensley Cocker," the character leading Share the Safety.
Cocker apparently gets a kick out of keeping the ruse up with inquisitive journalists, and when I called him he dropped into and out of character. He was cagey and wouldn't reveal many details about his team, but said they were in Venice, California, and "five or six" people had worked on the project, implying all were veterans of one sort of PR-adjacent field or another.
"It's just like any project that the NRA normally puts together. It just takes a certain amount of work," Cocker said of the project. "It's just setting up a new business.... You have to have a website, set up email accounts, you have to hire staff, or sometimes get people to volunteer."
Though Share the Safety appeared on the heels or the Orlando shooting, Cocker said that the team had been kicking the concept around for "a couple of years" before finally committing to it months ago (a domain name registration search shows SharetheSafety.org was purchased in May). Orlando did cause the team to "speed up by a few days"—the project was supposed to be unveiled at Politicon, a gathering of pundits and politicians happening this weekend, but according to Cocker organizers "got cold feet" after the shooting. (A spokesman for Politicon confirmed that account did "ring true.")
Share the Safety is a grim joke, but the gun debate itself is pretty fucking grim these days. A good laugh, to some pro-gun dudes, is a "Waterboarding Instructor" T-shirt or a Muslim-banning gun store selling targets with the president's face on them. Inevitably, those same kinda dudes grouse about the fussy, hair-splitting language of political correctness—so, fine, let's stop pussyfooting around. In real life, it doesn't take an NRA-sponsored program to get guns into poor neighborhoods. They come into cities anyway, often from places that have weak gun laws thanks to the NRA, and people end up getting killed, not because of some terrorist ideology, but because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Gun crime never hurts gun sales, of course. As documented by Evan Osnos for the New Yorker, the more dangerous the world seems—when mass shootings hit, the implicit threat of random violence makes people go out and buy guns. If any of those are sold to people who shouldn't have them, the companies themselves are shielded from prosecution by federal law. The more guns there are, the more potential shooters there are; more shootings means more fear; more fear means more guns.
It's hard to know what to do with a cycle like that. You could sit down on the floor of Congress. You could print newspaper covers calling Congress cowards, NRA head Wayne LaPierre a terrorist, and gun sellers merchants of death. Or you could let out a long, bitter laugh about the whole thing. If anyone has any other ideas, don't keep them to yourself.