Montana Gun-With-Satellite-TV Deal Draws Criticism as Sales Soar

A Montana store is offering a free gun to customers who sign up for satellite-TV service, drawing criticism from an advocacy group and the dealer’s parent RadioShack Corp., which is trying to stop the promotion.

The shop, located in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana about 50 miles off the highway, has tripled the number of signups for Dish Network Corp.’s service since starting the offer in October, store manager Fabian Levy said. When customers sign a Dish contract, they get a gift certificate for a gun that can be redeemed at Frontier Guns & Ammo, about 10 miles from the store.

Assuming customers pass an FBI background check at the gun store, the coupons can be exchanged for a Hi-Point 380 pistol or a 20-gauge shotgun that retail between $130 and $140. No license is needed in Montana to buy a gun.

“We pay for the guns out of our own pocket,” Levy said in a phone interview. “We’re trying to keep everything community oriented.”

RadioShack, the Fort Worth, Texas-based electronics chain, is in discussions with the franchise to end the promotion, said Eric Bruner, a spokesman. The offer isn’t consistent with RadioShack’s agreement with the store or its “recommended marketing practices for independent dealers,” he said.

Dish checked its rules and regulations and found nothing wrong with the offer, said Marc Lumpkin, a company spokesman.

“We started as a rural satellite-TV retailer ourselves many years ago,” Lumpkin said. “It appears that this promotion fits the demographic of rural Montana.”

Pizza Coupon Alternative

Levy said the promotion was an idea of a friend of Steve Strand, the independent owner of the RadioShack franchise who couldn’t be reached for comment. Strand then agreed to a partnership with Chad Ballman, the gun store’s owner.

“There’s been a definite uptick in business,” Ballman said. He said he couldn’t estimate how many coupons had been redeemed.

Offering a potentially lethal item as an incentive to buy a product is irresponsible, said Joshua Horwitz, executive director at the Washington-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. The risk of a potential lawsuit or unwittingly enabling a crime should be enough for a business owner to dismiss the idea of a gun giveaway, he said.

“The second something bad happens with one of those firearms, this gimmick is going to look really stupid,” said Horwitz. Background checks can sometimes be incomplete, he said.

Ballman said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation check, which can last anywhere from two minutes to five days, is an effective way of screening for criminals, and the store hasn’t distributed guns later used for crimes. Local businesses have recently approached him for similar promotions involving free firearms, he said.

Dish’s Lumpkin said the promotion doesn’t break company rules because RadioShack doesn’t offer the gun itself. He also noted that the store offers an alternative gift for customers who don’t want a gun -- a $50 coupon for Pizza Hut.

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