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Dell fiasco shows growth of gun rights community

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted March 4, 2002

Dell Computer Corporation has been riding high lately with an advertising campaign based on the slogan: "Dude, get a Dell!" Last week, Dell stumbled into a confrontation with American gun rights activists that illustrates interesting changes in the nature of that community.

Millions of politically active gun owners are now linked via a sprawling and unorganized network of web sites and email distribution lists. Valid information and rumors both propagate at light speed. On February 26th, an email spread through the network like wildfire.

Jack Weigand is a highly respected Pennsylvania gunsmith and President of the American Pistolsmiths Guild. He sent out a message describing his unpleasant encounter with Dell. He reported that Dell cancelled his order for a laptop computer, because the name of his business, Weigand Combat Handguns, suggested that he might be planning to use the computer for criminal purposes. They also rudely neglected to inform him of the cancellation.

Stories like this are a serious hot-button issue for gun owners, who are sick and tired of being demonized for the last couple of decades. Connectivity, computer skills and hard feelings are a potent combination. Within hours, Dell was inundated with hostile emails and phone calls.

Dell's damage control team moved quickly. An apology from Dell was forthcoming on February 28th, but not before angry net-gunnies were further incensed by the discovery that Dell was listed on an obscure web site that allows Dell customers to donate a portion of their payment to Handgun Control Inc.

Dell's rather lame apology claimed that their cancellation of Mr. Weigand's laptop order was a misunderstanding motivated by their desire to comply with federal export laws designed to keep high technology from falling into the hands of terrorists. They offered Weigand a free computer, which he respectfully declined.

There is no way to know how much this fiasco cost Dell, but it has provided an unexpected windfall for a flamboyant computer retailer in Utah. Dell Shanze, owner of Totally Awesome Computers (totallyawesome.com) received plenty of free publicity when his gun-owning customers posted their praise of his pro-gun policies. Millions of gun owners now know that Dell Shanze, affectionately and ironically known as "SUPERDELL," encourages his employees to carry their lawfully owned handguns on the job in his nine retail stores.

In an email interview, Shanze recounted his background on gun matters. It seems that he once bought a shipping and packaging store that had been robbed three times. (No doubt he got it at a good price.) He carried a gun openly on his hip and never had another robbery attempt. Even though he no longer owns that store, it still remains unmolested by criminals.

He explained that his philosophy is based on his own experience: "Good guys with guns are legendary in the minds of bad guys and just a rumor of an armed business owner will prevent the vast majority of any robbery attempts." None of his stores has ever been robbed.

As if this weren't enough to earn the loyalty of computer-savvy gun owners, he also offers $100 off any computer purchase if the customer will bring in their handgun and concealed weapon permit. Out of state purchasers can simply fax their permit. Many gun owners are now saying: "Dude, get a SUPERDELL!"

Corporate managers should take note and avoid repeating past errors. Any sign of prejudice against lawful gun owners now risks a confrontation with millions of net-wired activists.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws, www.dsgl.org. His email is rkba2000@yahoo.com and he is not affiliated with any company mentioned in this column.

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