Gun Owners Are Obsessed with Zombies
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This piece originally appeared on Pacific Standard.
The (notably sarcastic) video above is an advertisement for Brownells, an Iowa gun accessory retailer that does much of its business online. Last fall the company, which describes itself, perhaps generously, as the “World’s Largest Supplier of Firearms Accessories and Gunsmithing Tools,” launched the video series as part of a sales and marketing campaign. The story focuses on a fictional Zombie Elimination Crew that uses Brownells-sold products to survive an undead apocalypse. After the video, clicking a link brings you to a photograph of the Z.E.C. and provides details of the survival gear each member uses. From there, you one-click to a purchasing screen, like any e-commerce site. For example, here’s the page for the zombie-branded rifle sight ($535) that one of the crew uses in the video. Similarly, the Zombie Hunter Kicklite Tactical Stock, which is an aftermarket butt for a shotgun, is engraved with the triple-arcing international “biohazard” symbol and the slogan “Zombie Hunter.” They also sell a Zombie Hunter upper receiver, a rifle part for the semi-automatic AR-15.
Brownells’ zombie campaign was part of a larger boom that began last year for zombie-themed weapons and accessories. Ammunition-maker Hornady found itself selling out boxes of its ZombieMax brand bullets. ZombieMax also has a monster-movie-inspired web video advertisement, to sell real bullets for real guns.
Responding to the trend, Guns and Ammo magazine launched a special edition, Zombie Nation, last summer. Zombie Nation‘s cover story was about an AR-15 assault rifle painted in radioactive green, outfitted with add-ons to allow automatic operation that “bridges the firepower gap between a rifle and a machine gun.” So-called “ slidefire” modifications would be necessary for killing waves of zombies, goes the marketing message; the joke had already caught on with rapid-fire rifle enthusiasts:
None of this was particularly mainstream, and private companies like Brownells and Hornady (whom we also contacted, and who did not respond to messages) are not required to release sales figures. But the market seemed to grow through last year. Hornady, Brownells, and larger dealers like Cheaper Than Dirt responded to growing demand by expanding their lines of zombie products. (Here’s Cheaper Than Dirt’s 3D Bleeding Nazi Zombie Target, $79.95, for example).
By mid-2012 zombie gun vogue had grown sufficiently to support theme events. Live-fire zombie shoots sprouted up. These were sport shooting events where you could dress as a zombie hunter and navigate a shooting course designed to simulate the apocalypse. Less popular than zombie pub crawlspeaking around the same time, the undead shoot-ups attracted crowds that were small enough to fly under the national radar, but large enough to make it worth an organizer’s while. One event drew 1,200 in Minnesota. Sponsors at a Nebraska zombie shoot, Pandemic 2012: Zombies in the Heartland, included the state’s Army National Guard.
Smaller players had gotten into the game. Florida gun parts dealer Spike’s Tactical marketed a zombie-themed trigger assembly for an AR-15 assault rifle, in which the “safety” selector has three settings, “Live,” “Dead,” and “Undead.” It’s currently on back order from nine to 12 months.
That’s typical. Cabela’s, another retailer with a well-known shooting accessories business, has trouble keeping zombie-branded bullets in stock. This year, when the post-Newtown national spike in gun sales came, the zombie trend went with it, catching a second wind.
A lot of the most popular zombie gun accessories are inexpensive. “Radioactive” cartridge boxes, or a $25 zombie handgrip for your pistol, are the little touches that dress up a gun rack without breaking the bank. Accessories: think of a good hat or the right earrings. In the case of Cabela’s, the famous hunting supplier mentioned above, it’s fair to say the stuff’s low cost might be the whole appeal: ZombieMax bullets are competitively priced, and stalking deer is an expensive hobby.