Corporations and weapons: How companies are reshaping the gun control debate

Ed Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, oversees more than 720 stores in 47 states and runs a multi-billion dollar empire. But Stack is now balancing running a business with his new role as one of the corporate faces of the American gun control debate.

“I don’t see how anyone can actually sit there and say, ‘I don’t think we need to question the people who buy guns,’ with everything that has happened. ‘ It’s just ridiculous, “he said.

It’s a pretty controversial point of view from a company that has been in the guns business for a long time. His father, Richard Stack, founded Dick’s Bait and Tackle in Binghamton, New York, in 1948. To do this, he used a $ 300 loan from his grandmother’s cookie jar. He was only 18 years old. He’d probably hardly recognize the place these days – this tiny place has grown into a nationwide chain, with a few stores big enough to house the space shuttle.

As Dick’s grew it became one of the largest sellers of firearms. Until 2012, when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.


Ed Stack, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods.

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“All we wanted to do was just take it off the shelf and not say anything,” said Stack.

The “it” he speaks of is the AR-15, a light, semi-automatic modern sport rifle similar to the one used in the Sandy Hook massacre. He ordered the removal of all of Dick’s Sporting Goods across the country.

“We’re probably getting a little backlash, but we didn’t expect to get what we got,” he said. “All of this about, you know how we were against the Second Amendment, you know, ‘we don’t believe in the Constitution’ and none of it could be further from the truth, offensive weapons that could do that kind of damage.”

What Dicks did didn’t stop the mass shootings; after Sandy Hook they were uncomfortably numerous. But when a shootout took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. In 2018, it struck Stack closer than ever.

“We found out we sold that kid a shotgun,” said Stack. “So I said: ‘We’re done.'”

“Even though that wasn’t the weapon he used?” asked Cowan.

“Even if it wasn’t the weapon he used.

Since Parkland, he and his wife, Donna, have pondered the moral implications of another arms sale. They even took a trip to Florida to meet with parkland survivors.

Donna recalled, “You are speechless for a second because you cannot even imagine the pain and suffering you are going through. You just like to walk in and I just wanted to hug them all. It was hard .”

The experience has taken Stack’s Stand Again Guns one step further. He announced that he would no longer sell firearms to anyone under the age of 21 – a move that many within the company had warned against would certainly put a brake on sales. And it did.

Cowan asked, “How much did you think you were going to lose?”

“A quarter of a billion dollars,” replied Stack.

“And how much have you actually lost?”

“About a quarter of a billion! Pretty close.”

In addition, he turned the assault rifles he still had in stock – roughly $ 5 million worth of inventory – into junk.

“I said, ‘You know what? If we really think these things should be off the street, we have to destroy them,'” he said.

Dianna Muller served in the Tulsa Police Department for 22 years and is now an award-winning professional marksman. When “Sunday Morning” caught up with her, she was attending the Rock Castle Shooting Center in Park City, Kentucky. It was for women only, a shooting league called A Girl and a Gun.

Commenting on Dick’s Sporting Goods move, she said, “If you don’t want guns, that’s your right. It feels really anti-American to use corporate policy to create public policy.”


Gun rights activist Dianna Muller.

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Muller has become a high profile spokesman for the gun rights movement. She testified on Capitol Hill that she was carrying a firearm, specifically an AR-15.

This is the exact rifle that Dick’s no longer sells.

Cowan asked, “Is it a fair question to ask why you need a gun like that?”

“No,” replied Müller.


“This rifle and any other rifle, according to FBI statistics, kills fewer people each year than hammers and blunt objects,” she said, “so it makes no sense to me that this will solve the problem that we … have.”

Their concern is the same one that the National Rifle Association has long voiced: if a weapon like the AR-15 is demonized, all guns could soon follow suit.

“It makes me believe that there will be another tragedy with another weapon, that they will come after the next weapon,” she said.

“Is that the slippery slope?” asked Cowan.

“Until everything is gone.”

Dick’s and others insist they don’t come for everyone’s guns – but they want gun reform with common sense – and last month Directors of nearly 150 companies took the unprecedented step of signing a very public letter To the Senate leaders asking them to do just that.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who invested millions of his own money to create the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, is aware of the setback from the NRA and others.

“We are evolving and a lot of the things we do today we would not have done before,” he said.

But he sees what American corporations are doing other than basing themselves on public opinion polls on weapons.

Cowan asked, “However, there are some critics who say American corporations shouldn’t stand in for the government. That these aren’t people who get elected.”


Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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“Can’t agree more,” said Bloomberg. “But I think the people who say corporate America shouldn’t make social policy for the country are right, but corporate America should certainly add something. They have rights, too.”

Four years ago, Walmart announced that it would stop selling assault rifles a mass shooting in one of their El Paso stores last August, ceased sales of this type of ammunition, even.

CVS, Kroger, and Walgreens, among other major retailers, have joined Walmart to survey their customers not to carry guns openly into their stores, even in states where it’s legal.

Some in the financial sector also got involved, including Bank of America, which said it would stop lending money to certain gun manufacturers.

Cowan asked Bloomberg, “Now with the impeachment in the air and everything else, do you feel like something is about to be done about gun control?”

“You know, a crisis is too important to waste,” he replied. “And maybe during this time they will do some things that they would never have done before just because they want to divert attention.”

Strange things have happened, but he’s not holding his breath.

Last February, The House of Representatives passed law that would expand federal background checks on the purchase of firearms. But President Trump was hesitant about what he would actually sign. The bill is on Senator Mitch McConnell’s desk.

Which goes well with Dianna Muller. She said, “Just because Congress isn’t doing anything, they stand up for me and legislate based on what I sent them to Washington DC for – not what feels good or what the masses might want.”

Still, Stack doesn’t wait. In fact, it can go even further. He’s already removed all guns from more than 100 of his stores and is considering extending that ban chain-wide. “We’ve been doing a strategic review of the entire category to see what we’re going to do with that category,” he said.

“So there is a chance you will stop selling firearms altogether?” asked Cowan.

“The entire category is being strategically reviewed.”

“That sounds like a maybe?”

“The whole category is being strategically reviewed,” laughed Stack.

He won’t show all of his cards. What he knows is that Dick’s Sporting Goods is changing – and he expects the culture to change too.

“So many people say to me, you know, ‘If we do what you want to do, these mass shootings won’t stop,'” said Stack. “And my answer is, ‘You’re probably right, it won’t. But if we do these things and it saves a life, don’t you think it’s worth it?'”

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Story produced by Michelle Kessel.

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