The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 9, 2014

Cross column: Free guns with truck makes good business

The Mankato Free Press

---- — If you’re a fan of Ford pickups, and also happen to be in need of a new shotgun, you might consider a drive up to Muscatell-Burns Ford in Hawley in northwest Minnesota.

Buy a new or used Ford truck through Friday, and the dealership will throw a free shotgun into the deal.

Or more correctly, they’ll give you a $350 voucher to buy one from an outdoor store in nearby Fargo, N.D. Buyers would have to comply with all of the firearm regulations that apply to any other retail gun purchase, of course.

To suggest that the promotion to give away guns with a truck purchase tweaked media interest would be a significant understatement.

Virtually every television station in Minnesota and elsewhere, many newspapers, magazines, blogs and radio stations, reported on the promotion. Throwing in a shotgun to sweeten a deal on a new pickup truck?

It makes perfect business sense in and around Hawley, located midway between Detroit Lakes and Moorhead, where the outdoors and hunting are a lifestyle and frequent topic of conversation.

But vehicle dealerships offering guns to close a sale isn’t exactly a novel idea.

In 2010 and 2011, dealerships in Missouri and Florida garnered national media attention by offering free AK-47s to customers who purchased vehicles.

Of course, neither dealership had a semi-trailer on the back lot stacked with the crates of the Cosmoline-encrusted weapons. And in reality, customers weren’t limited to AK-47s.

Just as in Hawley, buyers were issued vouchers and then had to go through a federally licensed firearms dealer, passing the requisite background checks before receiving a gun of their choice.

It is one thing to offer a free shotgun. Even the most ardent gun control proponent could probably understand how a more traditional firearm could be used for sporting pursuits.

But one can only imagine how the anti-gun folks got their shorts in a bunch over the notion of someone getting a free AK-47 — the embodiment of so-called assault weapons — when buying a car.

Not surprisingly, offering free AK-47s was intended as much as a political statement as sales promotion.

But even more staid-and-stuffy businesses have offered guns as enticements to do some business.

Thirty years ago, a bank in Colorado routinely advertised firearms as an enticement to sell certificates of deposit in several outdoor magazines. Not exactly free, the high-end Browning and Weatherby firearms were available in lieu of interest paid on the CDs.

Back then, unless you were a gun aficionado or hunter and had some money laying around to invest, the promotion hardly attracted any attention.

Fast-forward to present day.

Thanks to recent news events and the need to fill a 24-hour news cycle, the media can’t resist a subject that involves the offer of “free” firearms. Just Google “free guns for trucks” or something similar.

Some news organizations are inclined to add a bit of political coloring, a measure of incredulity at the idea of free guns with a vehicle purchase, that it is something that only could happen at the fringe of a civilized society.

But far away from the metropolitan newsrooms, offering a free gun to a customer base grounded in common sense and an outdoor lifestyle is viewed pretty much as business as usual.

And good business at that.

Certainly, someone at Muscatell-Burns deserves credit for coming up with the idea, original or not, of offering a free gun which a truck purchase.

After all, most dealerships pay for their advertisements that appear in this and other newspapers, on the radio or television. This one — and all of the other stories about their gun promotion that spread far and wide — didn’t cost the folks up in Hawley a dime.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at