Wave of US companies taking stand over selling guns, facing retribution

2018-03-02 10:31
This photo provided by the Broward County Jail shows Nikolas Cruz, who carried out the mass shooting at a school in Florida. (AP)

This photo provided by the Broward County Jail shows Nikolas Cruz, who carried out the mass shooting at a school in Florida. (AP)

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New York – Kroger will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21 at the stores it owns, becoming the third major retailer this week to put restrictions in place that are stronger than federal laws.

The move, following those by Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart – and retribution on Delta by lawmakers – emphasises the pressure companies are facing to take a stand.

The nation's largest grocery chain has sold guns from 44 of its Fred Meyer stores in the West, but said on Thursday that since a mass shooting last month at a Florida high school that killed 17 people, it's become clear that gun retail outlets must go beyond what current US laws require.

ALSO READ: Hugs, tears and police: High school reopens after shooting

"In response to the tragic events in Parkland and elsewhere, we've taken a hard look at our policies and procedures for firearm sales," Kroger Co. said in a release.

The change comes one day after Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods, both prominent gun sellers, tightened their company policies, and also a day after students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for the first time since the shooting there.

And late on Thursday outdoor retailer REI has said it's halting future orders of some popular brands – including CamelBak water carriers, Giro helmets and Camp Chef stoves – whose parent company also makes ammunition and assault-style rifles. Seattle-based REI has been facing mounting pressure from some customers.

Companies like Dick's had already changed gun-sale policies in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, but the Parkland shooting has opened a fissure between a portion of corporate America and organisations like the National Rifle Association.

MetLife, Hertz and Delta Air Lines and other major US corporations have already cut ties with the National Rifle Association, and at some political risk.

'You can't please everyone'

Georgia lawmakers passed a bill on Thursday that effectively punishes Delta for cutting ties with the NRA, following through on Republican vows to deny a tax break worth an estimated $38m to airlines after Delta ended discounts for NRA members in the wake of the most recent school massacre. The Atlanta-based airline would have been the chief beneficiary of the tax break.

One industry analyst said after the announcement from Dick's, and strong words from its CEO about the need for change, that other retailers that devote a small percentage of their business to hunting will probably follow suit.

"It is a risky game but you can't please everyone," said Joseph Feldman, a senior managing director at Telsey Advisory Group.

The announcements from Walmart and Dick's so far have drawn hundreds of thousands of responses on social media for and against the moves, from those who pledged to buy more from one company, to campaigns urging people to thank the companies for their decisions, to those who vowed never to buy from them again.

ALSO READ: Dick's to stop selling assault-style rifles in its stores

Penny Stalder, a Walmart customer on Thursday in Atlanta, supports the company's decision and says people mature a lot between 18 and 21.

"I am a member of the NRA, and I have a concealed carry licence, I just don't see the need for young people. They can wait," she said. "There are other kinds of weapons that they can use to hunt or do whatever they want to do, but they don't need military-style weapons certainly."

But Ryan Terlecki, outside a Walmart in Milwaukee, said he didn't think the three years from 18 to 21 would make that much difference. "I guess they have their reasons, you know, but as far as I'm concerned the law is that we can carry guns and that's our right and I believe we should have that right."

Other companies have tried to stay out of the debate. Some gun sellers haven't responded to requests for comment, including Bass Pro Shops, which owns Cabela's, or Camping World Holdings, which owns Gander Outdoors. The Outdoor Industry Association hasn't responded to requests for comment. L.L. Bean also didn't respond to a message on Thursday.

Besides major chains, guns are also bought from gun shows, local stores and from online stores.

Anti-discrimination laws

"If large retailers, like Dick's, reduce their exposure to guns, it could impact gun manufacturers," says Maksim Soshkin, a senior analyst at IBISWorld. "Manufacturers could see a decrease in sales or have to find new avenues to sell their product."

American Outdoor Brands, which owns Smith & Wesson, said on Thursday it expects gun sales to be more or less flat for the next year to 18 months. The company's third-quarter results and fourth-quarter forecasts were much weaker than Wall Street expected, and its stock fell 11% in aftermarket trading, while Sturm, Ruger fell 6%.

"We believe the firearms market will eventually return to long term growth," American Outdoor Brands Corp. CEO James Debney said on a conference call. He said the impact of the move by Dick's would be very small, and it would be "pure speculation" to say what the effect might be of other companies following suit.

Kroger, based in Cincinnati, said it has been tweaking some of its gun departments as it renovates stores due to softer demand from customers. The company ended sales of assault-style rifles at Fred Meyer several years ago in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. It will extend that ban to Alaska, where customers could get such guns via special order.

ALSO READ: School shooting survivors target NRA-linked companies

The NRA, which also didn't respond to request for comment on Thursday, has pushed back on calls for raising age limits for guns or restricting the sale of assault-style weapons.

Could a person between the ages of 18 and 21 challenge the companies over the new policies and argue that they are discrimination based on age? Some experts say retailers can set age restrictions without violating the Second Amendment.

Los Angeles-based attorney Angela Reddock-Wright, who focuses on workplace discrimination disputes, said anti-discrimination laws mostly protect people 40 and older from being fired based on their age.

Mike Glassman, who chairs the employment law group at the Cincinnati-based firm Dinsmore & Shohl, said the Second Amendment "only limits the government and not private entities".

Read more on:    us  |  guns  |  gun control

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