Business

Dick’s Sporting Goods, Major Gun Retailer, Stops Selling Assault-Style Weapons

Posted February 28, 2018 6:43 p.m. EST

One of the nation’s largest sports retailers, Dick’s Sporting Goods, said Wednesday that it was immediately ending sales of all assault-style rifles in its stores.

The retailer also said that it would no longer sell high-capacity magazines and that it would not sell any gun to anyone under 21 years of age, regardless of local laws.

The announcement, made two weeks after 17 students and staff members were killed in the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, is one of the strongest stances taken by corporate America on guns, adding fuel to an already heated national debate. It also carries symbolic weight, coming from a prominent national gun seller.

Late last week, a number of major companies, including Hertz car rental, MetLife insurance and Delta Air Lines, publicly ended their relationships with the National Rifle Association, issuing brief, carefully phrased statements. But Edward Stack, the 63-year-old chief executive of Dick’s, whose father founded the store in 1948, is deliberately steering his company directly into the storm.

“When we saw what happened in Parkland, we were so disturbed and upset,” Stack said in an interview Tuesday evening. “We love these kids and their rallying cry, ‘Enough is enough.’ It got to us.”

He added, “We’re going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view and, hopefully, bring people along into the conversation.”

The decision drew immediate — and passionate — reaction on social media. By midday, the number of Twitter messages containing the company’s name had jumped 12,000 percent from the average over the previous 10 days, according to Sprout Social, a social media management, advocacy and analytics software platform.

About 79 percent of the tweets had a positive sentiment, Sprout Social said, including supportive messages from Hollywood actors and actresses.

But the company’s critics posted their plans to no longer shop at the retailer, some closing their tweets with “#boycott.”

A spokesman for Dick’s said the company had received an overwhelmingly positive response to its decision, with some customers taking doughnuts and flowers to some stores.

Investors did not appear to worry about a backlash as Dick’s stock spent much of Wednesday trading about 1.8 percent higher before finishing up 0.69 percent.

Dick’s hopes to move the conversation beyond social media and into the political realm. As part of its stance, the company is calling on elected officials to pass what it called “common sense gun reform”: raising the minimum age to buy guns to 21, banning assault-type weapons and bump stocks, and conducting broader background checks that include mental-health information and previous interactions with law enforcement.

This is not the first time that Dick’s has made changes in response to a school massacre. In 2012, after a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Dick’s removed assault-style rifles from its main stores. But a few months later, the company began carrying the firearms at its outdoor and hunting retail chain, Field & Stream.

As of Wednesday morning, the company said, AR-15-style and other semi-automatic rifles will no longer be sold in its 35 Field & Stream stores or on its websites. And this time, Stack added, the changes will be permanent.

Stack said the retailer had begun scouring its purchase records shortly after the identity of the suspected Parkland killer, Nikolas Cruz, became known. The company soon discovered that it had legally sold a gun to Cruz in November, though it was not the type used in the school shooting.

“But it came to us that we could have been a part of this story,” Stack said. “We said, ‘We don’t want to be a part of this any longer.'”

That response raised rounds of discussions with the company’s top executives and its directors, all of whom backed the decision to take a stand, Stack said.

He said Dick’s remained a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and would continue to sell a variety of sport and hunting firearms. Although he has never been a member of the NRA, Stack said, he is a gun owner and enjoys trapshooting.

But when it comes to selling guns to individuals under 21 or stocking assault-style rifles, Stack said, his company is done. “We don’t want to be a part of a mass shooting,” he said. The company said that it had not decided what to do with its inventory of assault-style rifles but that they would not be sold in the marketplace.

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.

Under federal law, you must be at least 21 to buy a handgun from a firearms dealer. But 18-year-olds can buy semi-automatic rifles and other firearms.

Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at the School of Law of the University of California, Los Angeles, said Dick’s could be challenged in lawsuits claiming a violation of laws that bar age discrimination. Although federal civil rights laws do not apply, some states, including New York, prohibit businesses from denying goods and services on the basis of age.

“Don’t be surprised if an aggressive attorney general of a gun-friendly state brings an age-discrimination claim against Dick’s,” Winkler wrote in an email response to questions.

The company said that it believed its decision was in accordance with the law and that it was instituting the policy immediately.

Dick’s is not the first retailer to stop selling the semi-automatic guns. In 2015, Walmart said it would no longer sell high-powered rifles in its stores in the United States. But Walmart sidestepped any controversy involving gun politics, attributing its decision to lower customer demand for the military-style rifles.

It is unclear how other retailers that sell firearms will respond to Dick’s decision. Walmart and Cabela’s, which is owned by Bass Pro Shops, did not respond to emails seeking comment about Dick’s new policy.

It is also unclear what financial impact the decision will have. Dick’s does not break out firearm sales in its financial reports. But in August, its share price plummeted after it said weak results from its hunting segment had resulted in its missing Wall Street’s second-quarter earnings estimates.

Stack said he and his company expected a mixed response to its new policy.

“The whole hunting business is an important part of our business, and we know there is going to be backlash on this,” Stack said. “But we’re willing to accept that.”

He added, “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.”