A Norwalk mother says one of the country’s top gun retailers, Cheaper Than Dirt!!, has been sending her underage son gun catalogs after he ordered them online, despite her repeated requests for them to stop.
She says her son is mentally unwell and, since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, she is concerned. To protect her family, NBC Connecticut has concealed her identity. For the story, we will call her Amy.
“I can't get a gun company to stop sending my 15-year-old son catalogs,” Amy said. “The things that happened in Newtown are happening in my home. I have a kid with issues, and he's fascinated with guns.”
Amy told NBC Connecticut she discovered the first Cheaper Than Dirt! catalog in her mailbox at home in late December, about 10 days after the shooting in Newtown.
“I saw there were guns all over the front and flipped it over and I saw it was addressed to my 15-year-old son,” she said.
Her son, who has been diagnosed with ADHD and has criteria to be bipolar and sociopathic, told her he had requested it.
“He's been suspended at school for looking at guns online in school time. This is obviously an unhealthy obsession,” Amy said.
Psychologist Dr. Laura Saunders, of Hartford Hospital, said exposure to images of weapons can have an adverse affect on vulnerable teenagers.
“Sometimes kids who are more at risk have what we call magical thinking,” Saunders said. “They don't truly understand the consequences of the things that they're doing.”
Amy said her son was eager to see the catalog when it arrived.
"He said 'Oh Mom, can I see it, can I see it?' And I said, ‘No.’ He's never seen any of them," she said.
Amy immediately called Cheaper Than Dirt! to cancel the free subscription.
“I gave them the customer number, my son's name and address and said, ‘Do not send him anymore catalogs,’” she said, recalling her conversation with a sales representative.
According to Amy, Cheaper Than Dirt! said they could not find her son's name or address and couldn't do anything about the catalog subscription.
A month later, a second catalog arrived, then a third. Amy said she called the company repeatedly but said nothing was done.
“We live so close to Newtown, how could you not think that something horrible might happen?” Amy said. “I don't want it to be my son. I want to stop the feeding frenzy of showing him things he can use to kill people"
Infuriated, she called the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters. We contacted Cheaper Than Dirt! and asked them to suspend her address. Within hours, the company responded, saying in part:
Following her February 22 request, “We removed all addresses she gave us from our mailing list internally and externally, calling our list management company and printer to ensure that all address[es] [redacted name] gave us and names were removed and would not receive any further mailings or communications from our company ...”
They also said they removed his name and address of his father's house, where he had requested a separate subscription.
We asked Cheaper Than Dirt! why they didn't stop the catalogs when Amy first requested it.
In an email to NBC Connecticut, Cheaper Than Dirt! chief operating officer Roberta Wilson said they had no record of her calls or emails prior to February 22. Amy said she called multiple times in December, January and February.
Cheaper Than Dirt! said the minimum age to order a catalog or any product is 21, but signing up for a subscription is easy. The free request page is not restricted. When we first contacted the website, the catalog order page did not indicate a subscriber must be 21. After NBC Connecticut pressed them on the issue, Cheaper Than Dirt! vowed to change that.
The minimum age requirement now appears on the order page, but no verification or proof is required. Many other popular free catalogs that sell guns do not require a minimum age.
Dr. Saunders said vulnerable teenagers are most at risk to hurt themselves than other people.
“The stigma of mental illness is serious. We don't want to vilify these individuals, children and teenagers and adults. They need our help, they need our support,” Saunders said.
To mitigate harm, parents should closely monitor what their kids are exposed to.
“When we talk about supervision, we're talking about monitoring your child's activities. Knowing what kinds of video games they're using, what kind of movies they're watching, whether at home or out in the theater,” Saunders advised. “Having a close way to see what your kids are doing and what they're getting exposed to. Social media is another area.”
Amy said she is doing everything she can to help her son get through this challenging time. She hopes other parents do not have to deal with unwanted influences on their children.
“It shouldn't have to be so difficult to get help for your kid and to get a gun catalog to stop sending catalogs,” Amy said.