This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on August 16, 2016.
DS Arms, a firearm manufacturer and retailer, will exhibit at Wizard World Comic Con in Chicago, taking place this weekend, August 18 through 21.
Yesterday comics reporter Tom Spurgeon reported the exhibitor had been dis-invited from the event after fans and other exhibitors raised concerns. Wizard spokesperson Jerry Milani said, “we have elected to not retain them as an exhibitor at the event.” Since then it appears that Wizard has reversed their position as uncovered by Bleeding Cool writer Rich Johnston. Milani told Johnston, “this exhibitor will not be displaying or selling any real guns at the show.”
DS Arms’ inclusion in the pop culture expo comes after numerous attendees objected to the inclusion of this exhibitor based on concerns for safety, a family-friendly atmosphere, and Chicago’s ongoing issue with gun violence. The inclusion of DS Arms on the show floor by Wizard represents a dangerous precedent that is both disrespectful and potentially harmful to the families and children attending an event focused on entertainment and pop culture.
Wizard did not follow up with Spurgeon after their original statement claiming DS Arms would not be allowed to attend.
DS Arms will attend in their original space alongside comics vendors and toy sellers. The company will only display and sell replicas of real firearms, but will still advertise for firearms that may be purchased off of the show floor. DS Arms was selected as a vendor for the convention through the use of a third-party service. They registered with this service as a “Fan Car” exhibitor, a factually untrue categorization usually reserved for replica vehicles. The company also plans to sell at other conventions including Dragon Con in Atlanta, according to posts on their Facebook page.
Both Wizard and DS Arms are creating a dangerous situation in what is generally considered a safe and fun environment. Even if DS Arms is not allowed to bring actual firearms onto a show floor, their inclusion still represents a dangerous precedent in the growing business of pop culture conventions. Show floors present themselves as places to discover and explore entertainment merchandise. Placing a gun vendor on that floor presents guns as entertainment. Setting them alongside toy vendors creates an additonal awful association. Some conventions, such as this weekend’s Flame Con in New York City, have banned the presence of firearms outright.
Even in the hands of trained professionals or used in a recreational manner like hunting, guns are never an entertainment or toy. They are dangerous weapons at all times and should be treated with respect.
Wizard’s response to this situation has been almost as troubling as their choice to include DS Arms. The original statement to Spurgeon was misleading and poorly informed, at best. Milani did not follow up with those previously given misinformation when it became clear DS Arms would attend the show. This decision expresses disrespect for the press and a willingness to mislead and bury a story that directly affects attendees of their events. It is dishonest and disrespectful behavior.
Some attendees have already responded to Wizard’s decision to go back on their previous statement and host DS Arms. Comicosity Senior Editor Matt Santori-Griffith, a Chicagoan and press invitee to Wizard World Comic Con e-mailed the company. After registering his disagreement with the decision and choice not to attend the event this year, Santori-Griffith was promptly told his name had been removed the company’s press list.
Neither Wizard nor DS Arms looks good for their behavior in creating this story. Both companies have exhibited untrustworthy conduct, and have neglected the purposes and audience of a pop culture convention. Now guns will be sold, albeit indirectly, side-by-side with issues of Captain America and figurines of Star Wars characters. In a city struggling with gun violence, replicas of weapons ready to be sold will be propped up alongside toys. The only motives for these actions are mercenary in nature. Both companies stand to make a quick buck this weekend, even if it comes at the cost of their integrity and the safety of those paying to attend. Simply put, their choices are disgraceful.
There are no winners in this story. But there is plenty of shame to go around.