Showtime's Lock N' Load: Hollywood Finally Lets Gun Owners Speak

How dare a television show portray gun owners as anything but drooling, neo-Nazi killing machines?

Showtime’s new six-part reality series, Lock ‘N Load, lets gun owners speak for themselves for a change. The series, which debuts Wednesday night, focuses on a Colorado gun shop where everyone from gun nuts to gun-totin’ grandmas comes by to reload.

The series doesn’t take a stand on gun ownership. It simply lets the store’s more colorful customers make their own cases, all egged on by “gunslinger” Josh T. Ryan.

The man behind the counter is a fledgling actor who came up for the idea for the series. In reality show terms, that’s a dicey proposition. Is he an actor portraying a gun store clerk or an actor who realized his part-time gig as a gun salesman would make an intriguing reality project?

We’ve been asked to swallow much more from past reality shows, but suffice to say the interactions between the affable Ryan and his customers are strong enough to sell the vehicle. You just have to wade through the first uneventful episode to discover why.

The store in question is The Shootist, a family-owned outlet based in Englewood, Colorado, just a short drive from Denver. Ryan stands behind the counter, always loaded with at least one good punch line for his customers. Three video cameras catch the customers in action. Occasionally, the cameras move downstairs where clients can fire their new weapons in a basement shooting range.

The store setting wears thin quickly, and should the show get picked up for a new season Showtime would be wise to open things up beyond its four walls.

Ryan does step out briefly from behind the counter to compete with a female customer for skeet shooting bragging rights, but the moment is undermined when the show hides her background.

You simply can’t take a reality series at face value these days.

The Shootist’s customers prove to be an eclectic bunch, a few proving more entertaining than the affable Ryan. Some are simply gun fanatics who can tell you every single part of the AK-47, while others just want protection against home invaders.

Plenty of kids stop by the shop, something that will surely alarm gun control activists. So, too, will a few of the comic rants coming out of Ryan’s mouth. He talks first and sells guns later, and while he’s always targeting an easy laugh, some of his banter is a tad … insensitive. We are taking about deadly weapons, after all, no matter your stance on gun rights.

Most store visitors mean the rest of us no harm.

“I love blowing [expletive] up,” says one happy customer, a man whose gray beard would make him an ideal department store Santa.

Naturally, the first few critical salvos against the show were anything but positive. Newsday and Variety dubbed the show “aimless” and “toothless," respectively, both bemoaning its lack of an angle.

By angle, they mean the show doesn’t demonize gun owners or the Second Amendment. Had the series taken an aggressively pro-gun stance, said critics likely wouldn’t like that particular angle one bit. The critics were likely expecting another Bowling for Columbine, one of Michael Moore’s many slanted polemics.

Whatever happened to introducing a topic and letting the audience draw its own conclusions?

Newsday goes further, saying Ryan is selling “death” even though many of the customers make it clear they want to own a gun to protect their loved ones against intruders. That critic should have holstered her biases at the door.

The series doesn’t shirk from showing some of the disturbing elements in the gun trade. One female customer wants to buy a gun for protection -- from her own kin, most likely. Several people in her immediate family are currently behind bars, and they might just come gunning for her once they hit the streets.

It’s a long story.

She ends up flunking the background check and leaves without making a purchase. It's a chilling sequence all the same, as are a few other moments when customers pick up their guns with a curious gleam in their eyes.

And it’s disquieting to see Ryan egg on a teen customer to “taser” his buddy. The moment delivers the expected jolt, but it makes the entire enterprise feel like one big setup.

Lock ‘N Load registers as further proof of our culture’s infatuation with firepower. Gun store customers pose with their new weapons, imitating their favorite action heroes or imagining what it would be like to stare down an intruder out to harm their family members.

Most Americans have more than a little Dirty Harry in us, and the new Showtime series reminds us of that in no uncertain terms.