Jesse Mills is a Wyoming native who grew up around guns, a musician who plays in SLC band Top Dead Celebrity, a product developer and a former bartender, but he’s no gun-rights expert. Mills launched the Bear Arms Shirt project in July with an over-the-top video featuring Top Dead Celebrity bandmate Jeff Anderson and girls in bikinis; his ultimate goal is having fun and maybe starting some conversation. Any millions he makes after reaching his Kickstarter goal (as of press time, he needs $6,644 more by noon on Friday, Aug. 9) would just be a nice side effect. Visit BearArmsShirt.com for more info.
What sparked your interest in, uh, bear arms?
About seven or eight years ago, I was driving home from bartending at the Hard Rock and got in the middle of a gang war. I’m not affiliated with gangs, but I got shot in the neck with a 38 special, and it almost severed my spine. It was kind of a big wake-up call. For the next several years, I couldn’t hear fireworks without hitting the deck, and everyone made fun of me, but it was a pretty traumatic experience. And then, I was sitting in, of all places, a Chuck E. Cheese with my kids, and these two adults were just fighting about gun rights, just blatantly fighting in the open. It just seemed so strange to me. And that’s what they kept saying over and over: Bear arms. Bear arms. It’s my right to bear arms.
What do you hope people take away from your videos and T-shirt?
When I started to do this, I didn’t want to make fun of the right or the left, because I can see both sides. Everybody’s got their point. I was making fun of the wording. My initial thought was conversation. I don’t really have a political agenda; I’m just using my experience of gun violence to perpetuate some fun. I’m not a scholar on the subject of gun rights, but I feel like I have a little bit of experience. I don’t want to piss anybody off; I just want to make people laugh. And laughter is the greatest icebreaker in the world. So, if I can get people to laugh and get people to talk ... this beats wearing an AR-15 into JC Penney. If they want to prove a point, this might be a safer way to do it.
What has the response been?
I haven’t gotten any death threats. I thought I would get ricin letters and stuff like that. But so far, from the right and from the left, I’ve gotten e-mails from both, and they both just dig it. Some of them have sent some really personal things, and it just kind of freaks me out, for the most part it’s a success in that I haven’t pissed anyone off to shoot me yet.
Going into it, I didn’t know what the demographic was, who the market is that the shirt would appeal to; I just kind of cast a line out into the water to see who would bite. So far, it’s been split. The far rights don’t get it, and neither do the far lefts. But there are a lot of people in the middle. That’s the kind of people who will be creating different ideas and different thoughts and, dare I say, legislation down the road.
Are you planning the bear arms shirt as a hot fall-fashion item?
We can only hope. I did release it July 4 for Independence Day, but it is definitely very warm. I was this creepy dude in a craft store, going around and touching all these furs. I learned a lot about it—pile and tones and different things. We settled with this one, because it has the most bear-like look. It’s a lot softer than a bear. You can machine-wash it, but you gotta drip-dry it, or dry clean it. If you put it in a dryer, it’s going to melt it for sure.
What’s the goal of your Kickstarter?
Basically, I have to get so many shirts made to get it at a lower price, or we’d be paying like $100 a shirt—this fur is ridiculously expensive. I want to get a retail of $17.76; that’s why we’ve got to raise that money to pay for that first run of shirts. Once we get that going, hopefully we can get the ball moving and things just flow after that. I’ve got rock & roll buddies who wait till the last minute, so I’m hoping to get those last-minute pledges.