Is this ad offensive? Gun retailer's ads create Christmas controversy

Published: Dec. 2, 2015 at 10:24 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 12, 2015 at 10:24 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Once again, the nation is dealing with the shock of a mass shooting, the second in less than a week.

That may be one reason many in the Midlands are responding critically to a Christmas-themed billboard campaign aimed at selling guns. Palmetto State Armory, one of the leading gun retailers in the Midlands, purchased several different billboard ads promoting their holiday sales around the area.

For example, one billboard has five "golden rings" in a loaded revolver. Another has a handgun with a suppressor and the words "Silent Night."

Attorney Jack Swerling is one of many who have voiced disappointment in the ads.

"We have a right to say what we want and they certainly have a right to put that up. But I also have a right to comment on it, and I did not think it was appropriate, an appropriate use of the image and the words from that song," Swerling said.

Swerling has a concealed weapons permit, has been a crime victim himself, and keeps guns for personal protection and sporting use. He says the "Silent Night" ad is especially offensive.

"I just thought that was totally inappropriate," Swerling said. "Silent Night is a beautiful song. And I'm Jewish. But I was offended for the Christian community that they would try to make that play on words and images."

On Monday, Swerling posted his thoughts on his Facebook page. By Wednesday afternoon more than 450 friends had weighed in -- almost all joining the criticism.

The ad campaign was already generating complaints to the company's marketing officer Adam Ruonala when we asked him about it on Black Friday.

"There's a lot of people that really enjoy the humor behind the advertisement. And there are some people in our community that don't necessarily like it. We've spoken to them directly. I've received calls and I speak to them and you know as a member of the community one of the great things about this country is that everybody is allowed their opinion and we don't by any means discourage that. And we just kind of explain to them that it's not something that we're not necessarily trying to tie Christmas and Christ to firearms. It's more of people, this is their passion. Hunting. Shooting sports. All kind of things, it's their passion. And so they have the right just like anybody else to enjoy the specials that we would offer this time of the year when buying is up," Ruonala said.

University of South Carolina marketing expert Dr. Marianne Bickle stressed the need for responsibility in advertising.

"All retailers need to be responsible in how they advertise toward the public, especially when we are advertising where children are in view," Bickle said.

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