Unlike politicians, American CEOs take action on guns

Polly Mosendz
Bloomberg News

The pushback started soon after Parkland.

By Feb. 22, it was in high gear. First National Bank of Omaha said it would end its business relationship with the National Rifle Association. Enterprise Rent-A-Car did the same.

Others came in quick succession: Symantec, Avis Budget Group, MetLife. Dick’s Sporting Goods said early Wednesday it would extend a decision to halt the sale of assault-style rifles to all its stores, ban the sale of all guns to anyone under 21, and stop offering high-capacity magazines. Then Walmart said Wednesday night it will no longer sell any firearms or ammunition to those younger than 21.

Corporate America has taken action following mass shootings before but never quite like this. Spurred on by the impassioned high-school survivors in Parkland, Florida, the reaction, for now at least, has been broader and more meaningful. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough” anymore, Dick’s CEO Edward Stack said in a statement, adding later: “It’s time to do something.”

All of which stands in stark contrast to deliberations in the nation’s capital, where lawmakers are, once again, struggling to move beyond thoughts and prayers. After bold initial talk from both sides of the aisle, and from President Donald Trump, the conversation is slowly sinking into the same gridlock that paralyzed previous efforts to tighten gun control. At this point, even a narrow policy solution — strengthening the system of background checks for gun buyers — is bogging down. The additional demands of gun-control Democrats are unacceptable to gun-rights-backing Republicans and vice versa.

“I don’t know that this is the moment we’re going to get a breakthrough,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a gun-control advocate from Connecticut, said in an interview. “Clearly Republicans have realized they’ve got to position themselves differently. I just don’t know that it’s going to happen as quickly as next week.”

Whether America’s voters will accept legislative inaction once again will be answered in mid-term elections in November but corporate executives aren’t waiting. They’ve already heard plenty from their customers.

In a sign of just how fevered the gun-control movement now is in some consumer circles — especially in the wealthier metropolis areas on the East and West coasts — shares of Dick’s actually rallied on Wednesday, and closed up 0.7 percent to $32.02 after peaking midday at $32.71.

Twitter was full of posts from people pledging to buy new gear from the store as an expression of their appreciation. Dick’s had earlier cut off sales of assault-style weapons after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, but sales had resumed at its smaller chain of Field & Stream stores.

Gun Owners of America, for its part, predicted that the move would ultimately hurt Dick’s financially by driving away guns-rights advocates.

Gabrielle Giffords, a former Democratic congresswoman and mass shooting survivor, said in a statement Wednesday, “American voters and companies are waking up to the scope of our nation’s gun violence crisis. And they understand that it’s our responsibility as a society to do everything we can to prevent guns from falling into dangerous hands. When will Congress realize the same?”

In Metro Detroit, gun shop operators reacted to the decision by Dick’s, with some saying they weren’t surprised.

“That’s what big corporate stores like that do,” said Al Allen, president of Double Action Indoor Shooting Center and Gun Shop in Madison Heights. “They’re the first that bow to any kind of pressure or feel it’s a good idea in their best interest. Whatever works for them.”

Allen said that only time will tell if the sporting good chain pulling assault rifles from shelves would increase sales at his store. He said he doesn’t plan on changing the way he runs things in the meantime.

“As far as us implementing any changes, we’ll wait for Congress to figure things out,” he said.

Grant Miller, chief legal officer at the GB2 Tactical gun shop in Allen Park, said sales at his business had declined sharply in the last 18 months. “Nothing to do with any shooting, Republican in the White House,” he said. And he said online retailers have been taking a bite out of sales.

FedEx Corp. said that while its gun policy views differ from those of the NRA, it’s maintaining discounts for members of the association. HotelPlanner.com has also said it would continue to offer discounted rooms to NRA members.

And some of those who did take action have felt pushback from the pro-gun side.

After Delta Air Lines Inc. said it would stop offering discounted rates to NRA members, Casey Cagle, the lieutenant governor of Georgia, threatened to block a renewal of a tax break the airline receives in its home state unless it reverses the decision. “Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back,” Cagle tweeted on Feb. 26.

Delta’s experience is something of a microcosm of the push-and-pull that has ground lawmakers to a halt in Washington. The gun-rights crowd, while not as large as the gun-control crowd, is passionate about the issue. Come election time, many of them cast their votes solely based on candidates’ gun policies.

Stack, Dick’s CEO, seemed ready to move beyond concern over alienating those Americans.

“We support and respect the Second Amendment, and we recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens,” he said. “But we have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic.”

Mark Hogrebe, owner of Pointe Trap & Tactical in St. Clair Shores, said when it comes to selling guns to individuals under 21, he considers customers on a case-by-case basis. He also usually requires a parent or guardian to be involved in the process.

“Being a smaller facility we have the opportunity to actually have more one-on-one contact with the customers,” he said.

Hogrebe said he feels a sense of care and responsibility, perhaps more than an employee would at a larger chain store.

“I’m going to keep on trucking the way we have been until someone tells us we can’t,” he said.

Detroit News staff writer Candice Williams contributed.