Finley: Dick’s walks risky line on guns

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

About the only merchandise Dick’s Sporting Goods sells that you can’t also find on Amazon are guns.

And yet the major retailer of athletic and outdoor gear is turning on that captive customer base, throwing its lot in with advocates for tighter gun control laws.

Dick’s recently hired three Washington lobbyists — two Democrats and one Republican — to pressure Congress to pass more stringent regulations on guns.

The company was sent reeling in February when it was learned the teenaged Parkland, Fla., high school shooter had purchased his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle at one of its stores.

Dick’s quickly yanked the so-called assault weapons off its shelves in response to pressure from anti-gun groups, and also stopped selling all guns to adults under age 21.

CEO Edward Stack told ABC’s Good Morning America, “looking at those (Parkland) kids and those parents, it moved us all unimaginably ... we said, ‘we need to do something.’ ”

What Stack is doing now goes well beyond selectively limiting gun sales. He may be putting a bullet into his struggling business. Dick’s has been sliding for the past year; the stock price is down nearly 40 percent as competition from online retailers such as Amazon eats deeply into its sales. That’s a familiar story in the retail business.

But unlike other brick-and-mortar stores, Dick’s has an edge in that it offers a product not easily purchased over the internet: guns.

Pulling the so-called assault rifles left Dick’s with a solid selection of hunting rifles and shotguns, as well as handguns. But that may not be for long, thanks to its dive into anti-gun activism.

Last week, Mossberg, the popular manufacturer of affordable firearms, said it would no longer sell its wares in Dick’s stores.

“Make no mistake, Mossberg is a staunch supporter of the U.S. Constitution and our Second Amendment rights, and we fully disagree with Dick’s Sporting Goods’ recent anti-Second Amendment actions,” the company said in a statement.

Mossberg is the fifth largest U.S. gun maker, and the biggest manufacturer of pump-style shotguns in the world.

It’s not the first time Mossberg has used its economic clout to push back against gun control. After Connecticut rushed through tough gun regulations in 2013 in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting, the company halted the planned expansion of production in its home state. It moved the jobs and work instead to gun friendly Texas, where it now makes 90 percent of its firearms.

Losing one gun line won’t sink Dick’s. The bigger worry is how its customers will react.

Gun enthusiasts are quite sensitive to any threat to their constitutional rights, as evidenced by the sudden spike in firearm and ammunition sales. Gun sales had been declining since the election of President Donald Trump as concerns about the future of the Second Amendment subsided. It got so bad the iconic Remington brand filed for bankruptcy.

With sales up again, it should be good news for retailers like Dick’s.

But legal and responsible gun owners don’t like to be treated as pariahs. And they surely don’t want the money they spend on their firearms to end up in the pockets of Washington lobbyists working to strip them of their rights.

Catch The Nolan Finley Show weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.