The NRA's Blast Cafe

Will the gun lobby's Times Square theme restaurant be a Planet Hollywood killer or just a new franchise in bad taste?

By Arianna Huffington

Published June 8, 2000 6:00PM (EDT)

The NRA wants to make gun-loving fully automatic fun! Ripping a page from the marketing plan of retail hotshots such as Planet Hollywood, ESPN Zone and the Disney Store, the National Rifle Association kicked off its annual convention last month with an announcement that it was planning to open a retail, dining and entertainment complex in the heart of New York's Times Square.

Known as the NRASports Blast, the "family-oriented megastore" will feature a high-tech "virtual" shooting range, a theme restaurant specializing in wild-game cuisine and a shop peddling everything for the well-accessorized shooter.

Talk about one-stop shopping. Now, after watching "The Lion King" sing and dance his way into your heart on Broadway, you can stroll over to the Blast and get a leg up on having him stuffed and mounted. Or, for those too young for lions, there's the educational Mow Down Mickey arcade. Then, down Sniper's Alley, it's time to assault the Moving Target Cafe for a little powder-blackened quail or buckshot-tenderized venison tartar. Who knows, maybe they'll name their dishes after famous gun lovers: Bernie Goetz Buffalo Burgers, Klebold and Harris Pheasant ` la Columbine, Mark David Chapman Strawberry Fields Jubilee and the Kip Kinkel Family Sampler Platter -- all washed down with a frosty Colin Ferguson Long Island Railroad Iced Tea.

Sport shooting is "fun for the whole family," chirped NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. "It's probably about the safest activity an American can pick up as a hobby." Absolutely. How many more times are we going to have to read about a young life cut short in yet another tragic stamp-collecting accident before we finally take to the streets to stop the madness? All Wayne is saying is give guns a chance.

When your message has been judged wanting in the marketplace of ideas, simply dress it up and see if you can sell it in the other marketplace. It's retail democracy. The NRA is desperately trying to remake itself -- to take the focus off party-pooping school shootings and workplace massacres and put it on making packing heat family-friendly. (Harold Hochstatter, running for governor of Washington, is already catching the spirit: His 4-month-old son has just become the NRA's youngest-ever lifetime member.)

Philip Morris is attempting a similar transformation. Utilizing a multimillion-dollar saturation ad campaign, with the cloying tag line "Philip Morris Cares," the corporate giant is trying to shift its image from Big Tobacco to Big-Hearted -- from maker of cancer-causing products to alleviator of hunger, domestic violence and AIDS, from purveyor of pain and suffering to hero in the battle to end them.

But, so far, it's not fooling anybody. Especially since last month 22 Colombian states filed suit against Philip Morris, accusing it of, among other things, tax fraud, smuggling, money laundering and doing business with known drug dealers. Apparently, Philip Morris also cares about turning a profit at any cost.

So what next? Maybe it should rent the store next to the NRA and open Big Tobacco's Puff Palace -- a shrine to the enduring love affair between Americans and smoking. It could feature a virtual trachea ride, allowing visitors to experience the mysterious and often thrilling journey that smoke takes as it travels from the oral cavity down the esophagus and into the literally breathtaking beauty of the lungs. And no more treating tobacco enthusiasts like social lepers, forced to brave the elements to enjoy a refreshing puff -- every table in the Big T Cafe would be in the smoking section.

And why stop with these two? Let's open a whole mall of superstores for special-interest groups with a PR problem. When even the man -- George W. Bush -- who has presided over 131 executions grants a last-minute reprieve, it's time for some preemptive image polishing. Casting aside capital punishment's bloodthirsty, eye-for-an-eye message, the Execution Experience superstore will highlight the fun-for-all-ages aspects of death row. Have a seat in an exact replica of Florida's legendary "Old Sparky" electric chair -- every 10th customer gets a tush-tingling charge. (Talk about deterrence.) Or play Beat the Pardon, where contestants see if they can pull the switch before the virtual governor calls. And no one will be able to resist the mouth-watering all-you-can-eat buffet at the Last Meal Cafe. You name it -- they've got it!

Or how about a Pill for Every Ill -- a family-friendly megastore run by pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Eli Lilly? There'd be something for everyone. Drop those overactive youngsters off in Ritalinland -- there's not much for them to do, but they won't really care. And for your moody teens, there's the Prozac Pizza Parlor -- just one slice and their troubles melt away. Mom and Dad can then chill out at the No Angst Lounge with a soothing "smart cocktail" spiked with Valium, Zoloft and Paxil. Walk in stressed, stroll out with a new, blissful -- if slightly blurry -- outlook on life. And for Gramps, there's Pfizer's high-tech Virtual Viagra -- all the fun without any of those nasty, life-threatening side effects and featuring a special holographic appearance by erectile-dysfunction poster boy Bob Dole.

It's the mauling of America.

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

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