When the Price Is Right to Bear Arms

Two daily deals sites are selling bargain gun licenses but Groupon won't pull the trigger


The Boston offices of Yelp Deals and Buy With Me recently sold around 2,000 classes for basic firearms certification at the Mass Firearms School, in Framingham, MA. If you can pass a background check at your local police department, the certification becomes a license.

Despite the evident demand, Groupon refuses to promote guns or ally with an NRA-endorsed company.

Earlier this year, 

Groupon stated on their blog, "We don't run deals on guns or abortion...this isn't a political statement, it's avoiding intentionally upsetting a segment of our customers."  Or, as company spokesperson Julie Mossler explained, "It's not our business if you're for or against gun control and choosing to run gun deals immediately means we've chosen a side."

So far, no gun protection groups are up in arms over the deal and the other deal sites are cashing in. Yelp spokesperson, Kristen Whiseand told me, "It is not the first fire-arms related deal sold through Yelp and it probably won't be the last."  She added by email, "This isn't a political statement, it's consistent with the consumer-oriented approach of Yelp."  The initial Mass Firearms School offer through Buy With Me, a recent acquisition of Gilt Groupe, was one of their most popular sales, and they reran the deal.

The Mass Firearm School director and owner, Steven Hathaway, was happy to help license a regiment-sized militia of deal-seekers.  Even though his company barely profited from the promotion, spreading the gospel of guns meets Hathaway's larger goal. "Exposing more people to gun safety takes away the evil stigma," he said, "especially for people who have never thought about firearms."

For green gunmen, the offer is tempting. For $50 or $60 (depending on the promotion) the basic firearms class promises buyers the chance to handle a shotgun, revolver and a semiautomatic, shoot in a US military and law enforcement-grade range called the Judgemental Simulator, and complete the training requirements to carry.

The actual experience, though, isn't quite as action packed as you might expect. Billed as "Massachusetts Largest Firearm School," it's actually two office conference rooms in the attic of a suburban strip mall.  The four hour-long class consists of a PowerPoint presentation followed by a video simulator that feels like a souped up Duck Hunt.

The instructor, Charlie Cook, is a former armored truck driver turned Christian school music teacher. He lightens the lesson with gun-patter; "Can anyone tell me why there's an adjustable shoulder brace on the AR-15? Anyone?" he asks. "Well, my wife uses the taller setting and my girlfriend uses the shorter one. I'm just kidding... They're the same height!"

The instructor's views on gun control are clear but he treads light on the politics, never going beyond a shrug. "Call it cooky, call it crazy," he said about Massachusetts' ban on assault rifles.

Gun-related demand has even pulled some new niche deal sites into existence. Camofire.com urges users to, "PULL THE TRIGGER" on hunting gear at prices so low, "It'll almost feel illegal." Gearhog.com launched in July with the tagline, "Reloaded daily." So far the site has 16,000 subscribers.