Jun 19, 2022 - Economy

What happened when Dick’s Sporting Goods took a stand on guns

Illustration of a paper gun target with a "no" or "banned" symbol in the middle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When CEOs from more than 220 U.S. companies released a letter demanding the Senate "take immediate action" on gun violence, it was the first time we’ve seen a large coalition of executives make a unified plea.

Why it matters: It signals a shift in corporate America’s tolerance for gun violence. But individual companies, like Dick's Sporting Goods, have been at it for a while — and Dick's experience can give us an idea of what's ahead for the other companies.

Flashback: After the Parkland shooting in 2018, CEO Ed Stack told stakeholders, “I don’t want to be part of the story anymore” and methodically pulled assault-style weapons from the shelves for good.

  • Dick's also removed high-capacity magazines and raised the purchasing age to 21 — and Walmart, L.L. Bean and Kroger quickly followed suit.

Between the lines: It's obviously risky for a gun retailer to wade into the Second Amendment debate, and these corporate actions initially cost the retailer millions, but Dick’s made up for it over time through apparel sales, according to a Harvard Business School case study.

  • Stack and his leadership team committed to the decision, created a business plan to combat revenue loss, and communicated their stance proudly across national news broadcasts.
  • “Ultimately, the leader of Dick’s Sporting Goods followed his conscience, and the strategy worked — largely because he resisted an impulsive move, built consensus, and communicated effectively,” writes George A. Riedel, the Henry B. Arthur Fellow and senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.

State of play: Dick’s has continued to lobby and donate to groups like Sandy Hook Promise and Everytown, but a spokesperson declined to elaborate on future actionable steps, beyond signing the letter.

  • Dick’s also declined to say whether the latest onslaught of mass shootings has caused the company to consider getting out of the gun business altogether — a notion Stack previously considered, according to The Washington Post.

The bottom line: The current CEO letter has 50% more signatures than it did in 2019. It will be harder for other large consumer brands to dodge the issue as more executives weigh in and more companies, like Dick’s, take action.

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