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Protests halt car dealer's gun buyback promotion

May 18, 2001

Protests halt car dealer's gun buyback promotion



By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Angry phone calls forced Hagerstown Ford to cancel a three-day gun buyback program before it started.

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Anyone who turned in a firearm Thursday, Friday or Saturday would have received $1,000 off the price of a vehicle at the Ford dealership on Massey Boulevard.

A Washington County Sheriff's Department detective was to be at the dealership to collect the firearms on all three days. The firearms were to be destroyed after the promotion ended.

Outraged people protesting the promotion as an affront against gun ownership called Hagerstown Ford on Wednesday after television and radio ads aired.

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The program was supposed to be a simple, voluntary way for people to dispose of guns they didn't want, said General Sales Manager Eric Carper.

The backlash was unexpected. "Somewhere along the way, we upset people," he said.

Steve Palmer, president of the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, called the promotion "insane," "ludicrous" and "blatantly politically correct."

Palmer blasted the promotional ads' claim that gun owners are more likely to accidentally kill themselves, friends or family members than to kill an attacker in self-defense.

"That's completely untrue," Palmer said.

Artemis Advertising, a Bethesda, Md., firm, created the ad campaign.

Artemis notified the media of the $1,000 offer on Monday. By Wednesday, as criticism mounted, the promotion was in doubt. Artemis representatives called The Herald-Mail newsroom throughout the day - first to say the program had been canceled, then on hold, then back on as planned, then canceled again.

In a press release, Artemis Advertising quoted Carper as saying, "We should have made our stance crystal clear. Our effort was to check the abuse of firearms, not to alter the constitutional right to bear arms."

Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades said the dealership planned to collect the guns itself, but Maryland's laws governing firearms dealers don't allow that, so the police had to be there.

Of the guns collected, those still operational would have been sent to the Maryland State Police headquarters in Pikesville for ballistics "fingerprint" testing, Mades said.

If a vehicle sale fell through, the customer would not have gotten the gun back.

Members of the media were told Wednesday that the promotion was canceled. The Sheriff's Department didn't find out until Thursday when a detective went to the dealership, Mades said.

Laura Rosenbaum, an Artemis account executive, said Thursday that the firm had no comment on the matter.

Gun buyback programs have been used nationally, particularly in large cities. Locally, however, they aren't used because police have no money to fund them, Mades said.

He added, "I don't think you're going to get the guns off the street that we worry about."

Several hunters and gun owners work at Hagerstown Ford, and the dealership is not out to rid the world of guns, Carper said.

He said he has decided that in this area gun ownership is a topic too sensitive to tie to a sales promotion.

Customers who wanted to take advantage of the gun buyback before it was canceled can still get a $1,000 break on a vehicle purchase, Carper said.

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