Back in July, 2012, I received a call from GroupOn who wanted to sign me up to offer their subscribers a “shooting experience” in the gun range that is located beneath the retail level of my store. I use the range primarily in conjunction with the safety course that I offer which is required by my state if you want to apply for a license to own or carry a gun. The state doesn’t require live fire, you can buy and walk around with a concealed weapon without ever having actually fired a gun, but I require it for reasons that are too obvious to even discuss.
Ultimately what GroupOn and I worked out was a 30-minute session that would involve a brief safety lesson, then shooting at stationery targets with a 22-caliber pistol and a 9mm Beretta or Glock. The sessions were limited at my request to two shooters at a time, with each shooter supervised closely by myself and only one person shooting at a time. GroupOn did not set a minimal age for participation and neither did I. With all due respect to the memory of Charlie Vacca, the instructor is always supposed to stand behind the pupil, never alongside.
GroupOn told me that since my range was connected to a retail gun shop, I could expect to see a substantial increase in retail sales as a spill-over from the shooting sessions on my range. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Of the more than 300 GroupOn customers who redeemed their coupons between July and December of 2012, only one had a license that was required to buy a gun, and maybe one or two others bought some little crap. The typical profile of the average gun owner is a blue-collar, married White male, age 30-50, driving a truck. Want to know who came in for a shooting session courtesy of Groupon?
To begin, the GroupOn crowd was more female than male. They were mostly between the ages of 20 and 30, more often than not unmarried, often living with a partner of the same sex. Almost all had college degrees, a majority had gone beyond college to graduate or professional schools, and the most popular occupational categories were medical technology, finance and IT. A young surgical resident and his wife stand out because they had such a good time; ditto two women married to each other who serviced and repaired those machines that you get hooked up to for your annual EKG.
I started every session by asking the Groupon coupon-holders why they had plunked down fifty bucks apiece to come out to my range. And the responses were almost uniformly the same: they had no prior experience with guns, had seen countless guns being shot in movies and on TV and always wanted to “see what it’s really like” to hold a Glock in their hands and fire away. I don’t recall a single GroupOn customer who, following the session, expressed any interest in buying a gun. What they all wanted was to get a picture of themselves holding the guns that they could post on their Facebook page or some other social media site.
When I was a kid living in New York City my parents took me to Coney Island where I always went to the shooting gallery and shot a 22-rifle at some metal targets that moved by. The guy who ran the gallery wasn’t promoting the gun industry and the folks who came to my range thanks to GroupOn couldn’t have cared less about the corporate fortunes of Smith & Wesson or Glock. What GroupOn was selling was a chance to do in real life what they had all grown up watching TV. That’s not going to change just because GroupOn stops sending their customers to people like me.