Hold the gun ad, says Burger King City fast-food place is told to stop distributing coupons

April 06, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

For the past week, a downtown Baltimore Burger King offered a whopper of a deal: Buy food and get a discount on ammunition or a gun at a Catonsville sports shop.

A coupon ad printed on the back of meal receipts said: "Good for one free box of ammo with gun purchase or 10 percent off."

But within an hour of learning about the coupon from The Sun yesterday, the Burger King headquarters in Miami told the operator of the restaurant at Charles and Fayette streets to go to an office supply store to replace the register tapes.

"It's not the image that Burger King would like to be associated with in any way," said corporate spokeswoman Kim Miller.

She said the chain sponsors a national alternative school for at-risk teens -- "oftentimes the very kids who end up using handguns."

The president of the Baltimore police union, Officer Gary McLhinney, said the ads are particularly disturbing because of the continuing violence in Baltimore, which experiences more than 320 slayings and 1,200 shootings each year.

He noted that other businesses, such as 7-Eleven, sponsor successful gun turn-in programs to take weapons off the street.

"Somebody at Burger King must have lost their mind," said Officer McLhinney, who recommended that city officers not eat there as long as the ads appear.

Ms. Miller said stores typically are offered free register tape by private vendors who sell advertising space on the back of the tape.

She said the manager of the downtown Burger King, Michael Sharifi, didn't tell the owner of the franchise, Amed Kabiryousefi, of Columbia, about the contents.

In an interview yesterday, before the ad was pulled, Mr. Sharifi said he didn't notice the gun ad until a reporter pointed it out. But he said he had not received any complaints.

"If there is a problem, it's with the Constitution, not the tapes," he said. "I'm just someone who sells burgers, not someone who tells you what kind of message we send."

Burger King's quick move to yank the gun coupons -- they appeared at only the one downtown location -- prompted the owner of S&W sports shop, Tim Watson, to threaten a lawsuit. He said he spent $14,000 to promote his store at the restaurant and on cable television.

Although the coupons have appeared for a week -- and were scheduled to continue for three more months -- Mr. Watson said a call from a Sun reporter was the first response he had gotten as a result of the promotion.

"I thought I wasted all my money on that ad," Mr. Watson said, adding that he is targeting sports enthusiasts, not criminals.

"I don't sell to lowlifes or the criminal element. The criminal element is getting guns illegally. They aren't coming into the store and purchasing them."

Mr. Watson said he bought the coupon ad as part of a co-op deal through a Columbia-based vendor. The deal included advertising time on cable television and the register tape at Burger King.

He was promised a minimum distribution of 5,000 coupons over three months at the restaurant, which he said is one of the city's busiest with 1,000 lunchtime customers a day.

The coupon was brought to The Sun's attention yesterday by Susan Wolf, an associate general counsel with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which has offices next door.

"I was eating my lunch and found the ad," she said. "I said, 'Now how did this get into my bag?' I turned it over and realized it was the receipt. I was appalled."

Officer McLhinney said the ad "sends a terrible message not only to the community, but to the youth. They now associate a fast-food restaurant with weapons that kill people."

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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