Will Corporate Decisions on Guns Affect Policy Debate?

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It is rare for a company to drop products out of social concern, but last week four major retailers slapped restrictions on gun sales that are stronger than federal law. Such decisions usually are made reluctantly, under huge pressure and with an eye toward minimizing the effect on the bottom line. The Feb. 14 massacre of 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school has set off a response from U.S. businesses unlike any previous mass shooting, the Associated Press reports. Major corporations, including MetLife, Hertz and Delta Air Lines, cut ties to the National Rifle Association. Walmart, Kroger, L.L. Bean and Dick’s Sporting Goods announced they will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21. Dick’s also banned the sale of assault-style rifles, a step Walmart took in 2015. Dick’s CEO went even further by calling for tougher gun laws.

Those actions amounted to an act of defiance against the NRA and its allies who have vehemently opposed bans on semi-automatic weapons or a higher age limit for gun purchases. “What we are seeing is a real shift,” said Mimi Chakravorti of the brand consulting firm Landor. The decisions didn’t represent much of a sacrifice from a strictly business point of view. Most of Dick’s business is in other types of sporting goods, such as sneakers and basketballs. Guns and ammunition account for only 8 percent of sales. Roger Beahm, a professor of marketing at Wake Forest University School of Business, said smaller retailers will probably capitalize by selling the weapons the major chains will no longer handle. It remains to be seen what effect the corporate reaction will have on the wider gun debate. Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, said the NRA is unlikely to budge, but politicians might.

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