A show about the people who actually buy guns.

What you're watching.
Oct. 23 2009 5:01 PM

Lock 'N Load

A show about the people who actually buy guns.

Still from Lock 'n' Load. Click image to expand.
Lock 'n' Load

Lock 'N Load (Showtime, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET) is a lighthearted docu-series about gun culture and customer service as practiced in Denver. Practically an infomercial for a mom-and-pop weapons emporium called The Shootist, it celebrates small business (Wal-Mart gets disparaged by name on a few occasions) and big stopping power. Our guide stands—and, on occasion, dances for four or six beats—behind the counter. "I'm Josh. I'm a gunslinger," he says by way of introduction. Josh works a restrained rockabilly look, with statement sideburns and chain wallet. His chunky belt buckle conceals an ultra-compact pistol.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

Josh is a loud talker but a good listener and very highly Red Bull'd. He displays the fast-adapting charm of an ace salesman, dishing out hip-hop slang to youngsters, Eagle Scout diligence to military types, historical knowledge to the collectors, Hebrew to the orthodox Jews, and flirtation to the grannies. He strikes just the right gangster-leaning pose in attending to the youngsters who come in wearing T-shirts depicting Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface. (Such clothing might be appropriate attire for a mid-level coke deal, but in the context of a legitimate gun shop, it just looks gauche.) "It's just like working in a bar," Josh says, referring to the essential part of the job in which he tends to his patrons' desire to make small talk, share anecdotes, and express feelings of mortal terror.

Shot primarily with stationary cameras mounted in the store, Lock 'N Load captures these chatty commercial interactions. The Shootist's clientele comprises people who regard a gun as, variously, a safety device, a security blanket, a sporting good, a fetish object, a surrogate phallus, and even an aphrodisiac. The 10-lane shooting range in the store's basement hosts a number of couples out on dates, one of which goes to second base after firing off a few rounds.

Naturally enough, a lot of folks bring their kids into the store, whether to encourage a 14-year-old in her target shooting or just because they're taking their rug rats around for the day. These scenes may disturb the sort of people who won't even give their kids the lousy Nerf N-Strike Recon CS-6 Dart Blaster they really wanted for Christmas. It is heartening to see parents pay such keen attention to gun safety, as when one child—a second-grader?—handles a revolver the length of his arm: "Just don't sweep people's heads with the barrel, OK, bud?"

Statistics show that Denver isn't a terribly dangerous place, but if Lock 'N Load were all you knew of the town, you would come away with the idea that it rivals the Beirut, Lebanon, of 1983 and the Vice City of Grand Theft Auto. Granted, a gun store attracts customers with very particular requirements and anxieties—this is not an ice cream parlor—but I'm now convinced that everyone in Colorado has been jumped by skinheads, been charged by grizzlies, witnessed shootings from their bedroom windows, and discovered seven-foot-tall burglars chilling on their couches in the middle of the night.

Though the seeming intent of Lock 'N Load is to glorify firearms—in one scene, a pastor takes target practice to the tune of "Amazing Grace"—it's sometimes tough to tell which consumers are motivated by valid concerns and which are unreasonable fruitcakes. Consequently, the show is something an ink-blot test. Card-carrying NRA members will applaud as people prepare to exercise their right to self-defense; those who, like Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine, blame this country's rate of violent crime on its culture of fear will discover much evidence confirming their beliefs. At one point, a transplanted Australian says of America, "I'm always on guard here." Always? Always? You can stick that paranoia up your penal colony, mate.

Of course, a show like this would be lacking if it did not serve a big dish of mixed gun nuts. We see one dude dismantle his rifle while blindfolded and decide that he's pretty cool. We hear him talk about the Second Amendment and are impressed by his eloquence. Then he lifts his T-shirt to reveal a tattoo arcing under his clavicle and reading, in Latin, "If you want peace, prepare for war," at which point we begin wondering whether there's any political message to the rings in his pierced nipples. Another fellow keeps at least five rifles and four handguns in the back seat of his car, just in case mass mayhem erupts while he's commuting, I guess, or else to lodge a complaint when they starch his shirts too heavily at the drive-through laundromat. My favorite firearms enthusiast appears to state that he keeps one shotgun in each of his bathrooms. No word on what he's packing in the half-bath.

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