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Gun Owners Are Obsessed with Zombies

Manufacturers are using the zombie apocalypse trend as a tongue-in-cheek marketing tactic.

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But most of the zombie gear isn’t marketed to hunters. It’s marketed to what the industry terms the “tactical” sector of the retail gun industry, which are companies that sell guns used for shooting people, not animals. Tactical weapons are also an accessory-heavy business, and it’s easy to paint a spare part zombie green and tack on five bucks. If you’ve spent time with  shade tree auto mechanics, or people who like to build their own computers, or bicycles, you know the so-called “ Tactical Ted”  firearm customer. The zombie marketing fits an apolitical, purely sales niche: gearheads.

That complicates the discussion. Selling assault rifles with a toy-like campaign should be precisely the sort of industry behavior that helps gun-control advocates’ case. But the harder you look at the marketing, the further in on the joke you get. The professionally produced Z.E.C. videos are closer to something from  The Onion Video Network than to any “ prepper” stereotype. Borrowing from mainstream marketing, they’re gently mocking their own customers, who obsessively collect soldierly accessories, modify the weapons and do their own gunsmithing. The actors playing the Z.E.C. (who appear to be members of Brownells’ staff) carry off the seriousness of their fictional mission with impressive deadpan. When one goes down injured—he slips in a puddle—a chunky teammate gambols inelegantly to his rescue and “tags in,” professional-wrestling-style. Paranoids in a mountain cabin, this isn’t. If it were an ad for soda or cell phones you’d call the tone ironic distance.

The difference is that no one is trying to ban cell phones. The zombie craze has also provided a new narrative for devices that  dance on the edge of gun-law loopholes. The slidefire attachment, which gets as close to a U.S.-legal machine gun as one can, makes sense as a zombie-killing tool; it’s harder to justify in non-fantasy settings.

In mid-2012, Kentucky gunmaker Doublestar built the “Zombie X,” a modified Kalashnikov assault rifle. It had a high-capacity magazine, a bag for storing severed limbs, and a working chain saw mounted to its barrel. Designed as a publicity stunt for a trade show, the one-off design got so much attention, Doublestar founded a subsidiary to put the chain saw attachment into retail production.

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The company “intended the Zombie X Chainsaw Bayonet to just be a promotional item for the show, just to attract attention to our booth,” explains Doublestar’s statement on the accessory. “But after such an overwhelming acceptance and bravado, we could see by the second day, that we were going to have to manufacture them.” It formed Panacea X LLC, a Nevada organized limited liability company, in March of 2012, primarily to bring the Zombie X Chainsaw ($498) to market.

I guarantee you, a lot of people from where I grew up were asking themselves this practical question,” Bill Clinton told Democratic lawmakers in a widely reported strategy talk a week ago, “If that young man had had to load three times as often as he did, would all those children have been killed?”

Clinton’s admonishment to his party argued that a post-Newtown gun control debate doesn’t necessarily have to cleave the country in two. How, though, to reconcile Clinton’s argument with the Zombie-X: a weapon so over-the-top, it is hard not to read it as a political act, more than as a product with a profit motive. Like speaking crassly to test First Amendment limits, or staging a sit-in to prove the 14th’s, a working tactical rifle designed to fight fantasy monsters is a statement of intentions: “As long as I don’t hurt anyone, I have a right to do this.”

 
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