Nov. 19, 2010 -- Buyers in the market for a new car are familiar with promotions like zero percent financing or free extended warranties from dealers. But a truck dealership in central Florida has a "Buy a truck, get a free AK-47" deal, to the distress of some gun control advocates.
Nations Trucks in Sanford, Fla. began offering $400 vouchers last week for its truck buyers to redeem at a nearby gun store. The general sales manager, Nick Ginetta, said sales have tripled since the start of the promotion.
"First and foremost, we did this to coincide with our customer base," said Ginetta, who said his showroom displays deer heads and other hunting decor with its 4x4, diesel trucks and diesel sport utility vehicles. "My customers are sportsmen. They go hunting, fishing, and four wheel driving."
Ginetta initially scheduled the promotion to run until the end of November, but said he may extend it through the end of the year because of customer response.
Customers who want the semi-automatic firearm may redeem the vouchers at Shoot Straight, a gun store in the nearby town of Apopka. Ginetta said all customers must undergo a standard state and federal background check before doing obtaining a firearm. Instead of receiving a voucher, customers can also receive a $400 markdown on their truck, or purchase other items at Shoot Straight if they choose not to obtain an AK-47.
Ginetta said he chose to highlight an AK-47 weapon in part because of its controversy as a notoriously commanding weapon. Ginetta said he doubts he would receive as much media attention from local and foreign media if he had chosen a less contentious firearm such as a pistol.
"My obvious intention was to sell more trucks, but now it's a Second Amendment issue," said Ginetta, who is a firearm owner, though not of an AK-47.
The reaction to the promotion has been positive overall, but 20 percent of calls to the store are citizens concerned about safety, according to Ginetta.
The Sanford police department has not received any complaints, said Sgt. David Morgenstern, but he is alarmed that the redeemed guns could get into the wrong hands.
"Our concern is that an illegal gun owner is going to have an AK-47, which is an assault rifle. We're concerned that if someone has a brand new truck in their driveway, someone will break into the home," said Morgenstern. "But people have guns all over the country."
Gun control advocates also raised their concerns. The federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, but some states still have restrictions on the purchase of semi-automatic rifles like the AK-47.
"This is so disrespectful for people who suffer as a result of gun violence in our country. It's not like he's offering deer rifles at the start of hunting country," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "We don't need more of these guns out there. Maybe it's legal but he's saying he wants more of these in his community. But it's certainly not something I want in my community."
Ginetta said he also chose to start the promotion on Veterans' Day to recognize the service of those who have served in the military, which has disturbed gun control advocates like Josh Sugarmann.
"The fact that you have a dealership giving away AK-47s to celebrate Veteran's Day --- using guns that were used to attack our veterans -- is the beginning of the grotesque nature of this promotion," said Sugarmann, executive director of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center.
Sugarmann said the additional purchase of guns might exacerbate Florida's label as a "key gun trafficking state." In September, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns issued a report saying Florida was second to Georgia for the most guns bought in one state and used for crimes in another. More than 2,600 guns traced to crimes last year originated in Florida.
Advocates and legislators have discussed other gun-related legislation to minimize gun crimes.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) introduced the Firearm Owners Responsibility Act in July, which would require gun owners to report a lost or stolen gun to law enforcement within three days of the discovery that it is missing. She said she is dismayed at the promotion.
"It is important that we ensure a system of responsible gun ownership in this country. Distributing assault rifles as free gifts undermines the seriousness and responsibility that accompanies gun ownership," said Rep. McCarthy.
Rep. McCarthy, Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) have also advocated for requiring background checks on all sales at gun shows. Currently, checks are not necessary if one buys a gun from private collections at some gun shows.
Rep. Quigley said he has no issue with law-abiding citizens passing background checks and buying guns legally, but he does have a problem "with Congress refusing to close the gun-show loophole and letting unlicensed dealers sell guns to terrorists, felons, and the mentally ill."
Larry Anderson, manager of Shoot Straight in Apopka, emphasized that the AK-47 rifles in his store are legal civilian, not military, guns, and that business promotions with guns have a long history.
From 1976 through the 1990s, the Bank of Boulder in Colorado had a promotion offering a free shotgun or rifle with the purchase of a certificate of deposit. A Fortune magazine article from July 25, 1994, said the bank's most popular offer, the "Hunter's Special," offered a rifle, binoculars, and other hunting items, "in lieu of interest to customers who deposit $3,148 in a nine-year CD."
In July 2009, a car dealership in Butler, Missouri also offered a free AK-47 with a new truck.
"Banks give away teddy bears and toasters. Guns are extreme to some people. In this case, the only thing that may be unusual is the type of gun," said Anderson. "The concept has been around."