Waving the fake AR-15 on the street was started in 2016 by Firearms Unknown manager Brendan Von.
Mauro Campos, 37, served four years in the Marines in the infantry company known as Suicide Charley. After working construction and in a local airplane engine shop, he now manages a gun store called Firearms Unknown. To get customers to come in, he continues a successful marketing ploy started by the previous manager: he stands out front waving a cardboard cutout of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to those who drive by on Oceanside Boulevard.
“I’m out there four days a week, sometimes more,” says Campos. “Random people drive by spreading the hate and I just absorb it.”
Oceanside police used to show up when previous manager Brendan Von waved the semi-automatic look-alike. But they no longer bother. “They call the cops all the time on me,” says Campos about the unhappy drivers. “Now the cops politely explain [to those who complain] that it is a cardboard cutout, that it is not a real rifle, and that there is nothing they can do since we are just legally soliciting business.”
Yet that does not stop the verbal abuse, says Campos. “People say that I was frightening their child with a rifle. Even though it’s cardboard, we never actually point it at anybody…I had an older lady flip me off, telling me that I should just F-off and die. We never respond to anybody’s crude gestures or threats. I usually just give a big hearty smile and wave back.”
He says his constitutionally protected free speech sign waving is effective advertising. “It actually does help.” Campos says thanks to the ominous sign twirling, “…business is good. We’re just letting residents of Oceanside know we are here.”
Campos says he knows of no other gun shops in San Diego County that use cardboard weapon sign waving to get customers in their store. (The Firearms Unknown original store is in National City.)
“You always see people protesting about gun shows or about Planned Parenthood and nobody bats an eye,” Campos tells me. “Everyone just cheers them on. We are out there doing the same thing they are, just trying to support our Second Amendment rights, yet we are branded as evil. They expect us to respect their beliefs. They preach tolerance. But when it comes to people like me, we are hated on.”
While Campos says there are no plans to curtail his streetside assault weapons promotion, he has decided to not let his sole employee, a female, flip the cardboard rifle.
“It was getting really verbally abusive for her, including sexually. I had to pull her off since it was a safety risk. When I’m out there it’s just someone screaming something at me out the window.”
Campos tells me that he wishes the harrassers would understand one key reality: “If it wasn’t for people like myself [who served in the military], they wouldn’t have the freedom to protest.” Campos says his stepfather, uncle and grandfather served in the military. “I was raised knowing how to properly handle firearms.”
The name of the store, Firearms Unknown, indicates one’s right to bear arms can and should be enjoyed anonymously. “The government has no right to know who is in our business,” explains Campos. “If I decide to own firearms, I don’t have to justify them, in my opinion.”
Campos, who was raised in Carlsbad and now lives in Oceanside, knows that California is not the best state to be in if you support the sale of weapons.
“We always get customers who are military guys who say the California laws [regulating gun sales] are stupid. They say ‘I can’t wait to get out of here.’ It seems that everyone is moving out. My stepsister is moving to Kentucky. I’ve heard of tons of people moving to Arizona to get away from our ridiculous firearm laws. But I’m not going to get chased out of my home town by people who think I should have the same mindset as them.”
While Campos admits there are valid arguments on both sides of the automatic weapons question, “If someone wants to own one, it’s no one else’s business.”
Campos says all the neighboring business including adjacent Thai, Mexican, and sushi restaurants have no problem being next to a gun shop. “Everyone around here is really friendly.”
He says he has no problem with gun owners in recent news reports who chose to make their own plastic semi-automatic weapons from 3D blueprints sent online. “But they can’t compare to actual aluminum parts,” says Campos.