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I-55 Gun Billboard: As American as Apple Pie?

February 1, 2014

By Meredith Rodriguez, Chicago Tribune

TALK-AJ-2-BILLBOARD-0202What’s as American as apple pie and baseball? Rifles, according to a new billboard beside a busy Chicago freeway.

The sign on outbound I-55 near Central Avenue features photos of a baseball mitt, an apple pie and a large, black rifle above the words “Pure American.”

“As a mom, I’m shocked and offended that I would be replaced in an idiom with an assault rifle,” said Nicole Chen, president of the Illinois chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a grass-roots group that advocates for what it calls “common-sense gun reforms.”

Chen came across the advertisement, for Texas-based rifle-parts company Slide Fire Solutions, about a week ago.

Since then the Illinois chapter has spoken out on its Facebook page and has asked the billboard company displaying the ad — Lamar Advertising — to remove the sign.

“Lamar is posting this ad on billboards across the country, but it’s particularly upsetting that children in Chicago, a city that has struggled horribly with gun violence, are being exposed to such a harmful message,” the group said in a news release.

Lamar Advertising would not post anything that was factually inaccurate, fraudulent or deceptive, according to Hal Kilshaw, vice president of governmental relations for the company. A question of taste is different.

“We try not to run copy that’s offensive, but the standard can’t mean it can’t offend anyone,” Kilshaw said. “(Otherwise), we wouldn’t be able to run a McDonald’s ad because some people think McDonald’s products are unhealthy.”

Before the billboard was put up Jan. 13, the Baton Rouge-based advertising company discussed whether to accept it, Kilshaw said. While Lamar has rejected proposals and removed offensive ads in the past, Kilshaw said, in this case the company concluded that the benefits of running the copy outweighed the risks.

“We feel like it’s a legal product, and the advertiser has a First Amendment right to try to sell this product,” Kilshaw said. “If a group wanted to run a billboard that says, ‘We think semiautomatic rifles should be banned,’ we would run that.”

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