9:34am PT by Graeme McMillan
Gun Manufacturer to Exhibit at Chicago Comic Convention Amid Outcry
Wizard Entertainment, which hosts more than 20 annual fan conventions across North America, has found itself at the center of controversy ahead of the upcoming Wizard World Chicago event after it has emerged that the event will include a firearms manufacturer as an exhibitor.
The company in question is Illinois' D.S. Arms, Inc., which describes itself on its website as "a noted specialist in U.S. and foreign small arms weapon systems up to .50 caliber." The company's website also explains that it "offers training to the end-user for operation, maintenance and armorers courses for FAL rifles."
D.S. Arms' involvement with the convention — which the company had been advertising for some time — first came to many people's attention last weekend when it was reported that Wizard World Chicago had barred the company from attending, with a spokesman for the show explaining, "it has come to our attention that the organization markets and sells actual, real-life weapons [and so] we have elected to not retain them as an exhibitor at the event." Days later, however, the convention had done an about-face and readmitted the company.
"They are not displaying or selling any real weaponry at the event," Wizard's Jerry Milani clarified in an email to Heat Vision when asked about the confusion. That means that D.S. Arms is within the stated weapons policy for Wizard World events, which states that "Actual firearms of any sort are not allowed [but] simulated weapons … will be allowed, but must be non-firing."
Weapons policies at fan conventions have become increasingly under scrutiny in recent years; at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, Heat Vision reported on the inspection process fans underwent in order to gain entrance to the show with cosplay replica weapons; that show's official policy goes further than Wizard World's by adding zip-ties and wristbands to costumes to signify that weapons have passed inspection and cannot be used on the convention floor.
According to Milani, D.S. Arms was confirmed as an exhibitor at Wizard World Chicago only after "discussion with them and clarification of what they would have present at the show," although he did not go into detail. While content and display guidelines exist for exhibitors at Wizard World events, Milani told The Hollywood Reporter that "these are discussed with potential exhibitors rather than being public information."
Wizard Entertainment's decision to allow D.S. Arms to exhibit at the show has been met with outcry by comic book fans on social media, with the hashtag #GunFreeComicCon appearing Tuesday on Twitter, with fans using it to joke about unsavory things that will be appearing at the con (human trafficking, poisonous snakes).
I won't go to a con where people need to fear getting killed because someone decided it was ok to sell guns there. #GunFreeComicCon— Nyxie Black (@LampshadeQueen) August 16, 2016
I don't care if his guns are toys, having a gun seller at #WizardWorld when there have been 2000+ shootings in Chicago this year is nuts.— Jim McDermott (@PopCulturPriest) August 17, 2016
In case @WizardWorld is taking notes; I am both geek and gun owner, but I will NOT be taking my kids to a comic/gun convention.— NickinDallas (@NickinDallas) August 17, 2016
When asked about the online response to the display, Milani said that the company "is interested in fan feedback on this, as well as other facets of our show, and welcome input. Attendees and other interested fans can connect with us on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org."
Heat Vision reached out for comment to D.S. Arms about its plans for the convention, but received no response. Wizard World Chicago runs Thursday-Sunday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Chicago.