Aug 8, 2019

What Corporate America is doing about guns

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As the nation debates the best ways to curb mass shootings, America’s biggest companies are reconsidering their relationships with the gun industry.

Why it matters: The manufacturing, selling and transportation of guns is a complicated supply chain that touches much of corporate America, including retailers, banks and shippers. These corporations don't face partisan gridlock and can take action on guns swiftly, but the moves of a few companies won’t have the effect that new laws would.

What's happening: Companies are facing pressure from employees and customers to cut ties with the gun industry as mass shootings become deadlier and more frequent.

The latest:

  • Walmart CEO Doug McMillon pledged “thoughtful and deliberate” responses to the weekend’s shootings, but the company said it would make no further changes to its gun retail policies. [His note on LinkedIn followed an exhortation by New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin to use the company's massive leverage to curb gun violence.]
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook called on lawmakers to "come together to address this violence for the good of our country."
  • The Business Roundtable — corporate America's trade group, headed by JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon — told Axios: “We are deeply saddened by the events in El Paso and Dayton, and strongly denounce the senseless violence and any movements that fuel hate and intolerance, which have no place in our communities, businesses and country.”

Yes, but: No major companies announced concrete gun policy changes in response to this weekend's mass shootings. Cloudflare's CEO did say it would no longer host 8chan, a breeding ground for violent extremists where the El Paso shooter posted his racist manifesto.

Here’s what corporate America has already done:

On the retail side:

  • Amazon and eBay have banned the sale of all firearms on their platforms. And Shopify doesn’t allow the sale of semi-automatics and silencers, among other weapons.
  • Salesforce has stopped selling its e-commerce software to gun sellers.
  • Square prohibits sales of firearms or ammunition with its point-of-sale system, as does Apple with Apple Pay (though this policy applies only online, not in stores).
  • Walmart stopped selling assault rifles in 2015 and requires people buying guns to be 21, and Dick's Sporting Goods has taken all assault-style weapons off of its shelves.
  • Starbucks, while not a gun retailer, requested in 2013 that customers in states with open carry laws not bring guns into its cafes, though it stopped short of banning firearms outright.

In financial services:

  • Citigroup, in the wake of Parkland, Fla., mass shooting last year, placed restrictions on its business customers, saying they couldn't sell guns to people who were under 21 or who hadn’t passed a background check.
  • Bank of America followed Citi, saying it would stop lending to gunmakers that manufacture AR-15 rifles (then caught flak for a prior loan that involved Remington).
  • BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, said it would build 2 new "gun-free" investment funds that excluded companies that make and sell civilian guns.

In transportation:

  • Delta and FedEx have both stopped offering discount packages to the National Rifle Association.

But, but, but: Smaller gun shops and gun shows make up a much larger piece of the vendor pie than big retailers do, and a lot of transactions take place in cash — well outside the purview of big business.

And companies that do take a stand sometimes face accusations of hypocrisy:

  • BlackRock, through its passive investment funds, is still the biggest institutional owner of firearms stocks American Outdoor Brands and Sturm, Ruger & Co., as Bloomberg notes.
  • But BlackRock said it would use its influence to engage with these companies on business practices.

The other side: A number of companies are making decisions not to wade into the gun debate.

  • Visa's CEO, Al Kelly, told the New York Times last month: "Our job is not to lecture people about what to do or what to buy. And the minute you give on guns, then what about soda? What about fur coats? What about birth control pills? What about? What about? What about?"
  • J.P. Morgan Chase has not adopted a formal policy that limits its business with gun manufacturers and gun-adjacent companies. Dimon defended the policy and said the bank has a "very small relationship with gun manufacturers," all of which face a "thorough review" before the bank does business with them.

The bottom line: The actions of these giant companies — which critics deride as too little, too late — have failed to stop the proliferation of gun violence in America.

  • "Getting individuals companies one by one to adopt policies is not nearly effective as a national law that applies to every company all at once," Adam Winkler, a professor at U.C.L.A. School of Law, tells Axios.
  • "But while these piecemeal methods are not that effective, they do provide a rallying point for gun violence prevention advocates and they can make a small difference at the margins."

Go deeper:

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Starbucks discourages gun owners from bringing their weapons into its stores (but does not ban guns).

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