Gun sales, seen aimlessly


"In America," says Josh T. Ryan at the start of every episode of "Lock 'n Load," a new reality series premiering tonight on Showtime, "a new gun is manufactured every 10 seconds. And all sorts of people are buying them." As that works out to 3,153,600 new guns a year -- about three-quarters the number of new people who are manufactured in America over the same period -- one would think that, yes, there will have to be some variety.

That number does not seem to be too high, or too low, to Ryan, who works at the "family-owned" Shootist gun shop outside of Denver -- it is not his family that owns it -- where he keeps up a steady stream of chatter as he puts customers in the gun of their dreams. Hidden cameras record their conversations -- it is sort of "Taxicab Confessions" in a gun store, without the profound glimpses into the human condition that "Taxicab" can afford, or the sex.

Ryan prompts the patrons to talk, but the stories don't really develop into much; and although the arms-buying demographic is indeed wider than one who has not spent much time in a gun store might imagine, their reasons for buying tend to be variations on the same few themes: I was robbed; I don't want to be robbed; guns are fun to collect and shoot. (At cans and watermelons and paper targets mostly; in the whole six-episode run there is, interestingly -- and happily -- almost no talk of hunting.) Every once in a while, a snippet of non-gun-talk flashes by, but those roads are not really explored. And when the store is robbed, the ramifications of big weapons disappearing into the criminal underworld are never discussed.

When you go outside the series itself -- which runs from kind of dull to mildly diverting -- to the news releases that herald it you learn that Ryan, one of the show's co-creators, is also an actor. (He has, or possibly had, a stint in "Death of a Salesman" scheduled.) And ultimately, the show is less about the customers, who come and go, than it is about him. He is not particularly a gun person, anyway, he is a gun salesman, with the big-laugh bonhomie of one born to retail, as well as the ability to identify with a product and with his various customers. (Marriage, he tells an Orthodox Jew, is "a mitzvah.")

He calls them "dog" and "gangsta" and "dude," according to how he gauges their self-image; he widens his eyes in amazement at any even slightly amazing story they have to tell. "Oh, wow!" he says. "Awesome!" But his own talk also becomes repetitious after a while. For variety, he leaves the store at some point in each episode and goes out into the world (or to the downstairs shooting gallery) to fire guns, although his employers mock his marksmanship.

As one who has never spent any time in a gun shop, and indeed would be happy to see all your Glocks beaten into plowshares (in spite of the pastor here who finds in gun ownership "a biblical principle that's very sound"), I do feel now that I have sort of spent some time in at least one. Gun people are not all gun-crazy, clearly, the series shows, and are sometimes amusing; but there is still something in the sight of a small child aiming a grown-up weapon that I will find awful to the end of my days. Why not try model railroading?



'Lock 'n Load'

Where: Showtime

When: 8 tonight

Rating: TV-MA-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17, with an advisory for coarse language)

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