February 28, 2018; New York Times
Corporate social responsibility is taking a very different and more activist form these days, causing corporations to weigh in on social issues even when it may create a backlash.
In a newswire on Tuesday, NPQ discussed the growing number of corporate partners dropping support for the NRA and its membership. Now, in a related action, one major gun retailer has stepped up to implement some of the reforms being advocated nationally in its shops. Yesterday, Edward Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, announced that its stores would voluntarily end sales of all assault-style rifles, and high-capacity magazines. These changes, Stack says, will be permanent. Later in the day, Walmart joined Dick’s in the age limitation; it had already ended its practice of selling assault-style weapons in 2015.
Stack says he supports Second Amendment rights, but “We don’t want to be a part of a mass shooting.”
Stack disclosed that one of his Dick’s stores sold Nikolas Cruz a gun in November, though not one that was not used in the school shooting. “But it came to us that we could have been a part of this story,” he said. “We don’t want to be a part of this any longer.’”
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Stack is only too aware that the stand Dick’s has taken may be an unpopular move in his field. Still, “When we saw what happened in Parkland, we were so disturbed and upset….We love these kids and their rallying cry, ‘Enough is enough.’ It got to us.”
And people did respond—the number of tweets about Dick’s increased by 12,000 percent over the average over the previous 10 days. Although 79 percent of them were positive, some did call for a boycott of the stores. At the same time, Dick’s stock traded about 1.8 percent higher yesterday.
The company is calling on lawmakers to pass “common sense gun reform” measures which would include raising the minimum age to buy guns to 21, banning assault-type weapons and so-called “bump stocks,” and conducting broader background checks that include mental-health information and previous interactions with law enforcement.
Legal experts said they saw no likely challenges to Dick’s decision to stop selling assault-style rifles. Its decision to stop selling weapons to anyone under 21, however, could be tested in court. Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at the School of Law of UCLA, commented that there’s a chance the self-imposed policy will end up in court. “Don’t be surprised if an aggressive attorney general of a gun-friendly state brings an age-discrimination claim against Dick’s,” Professor Winkler wrote in an email to the New York Times.
Mr. Stack said his company was prepared for controversy as a result of the decision. “The whole hunting business is an important part of our business, and we know there is going to be backlash on this,” Mr. Stack said. “But we’re willing to accept that. If the kids in Parkland are being brave enough to stand up and do this, we can be brave enough to stand up with them.”—Ruth McCambridge