In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, gun reform has come to the forefront of national discourse. As student protests swell, brands — including Best Western, Enterprise, Metlife, and Walmart — are joining the fight for gun reform.
Most notably, Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of the nation’s leading gun sellers which had removed assault rifles from its stores following the Sandy Hook shooting, but later quietly began selling them again, found itself in the maelstrom when it was revealed that it had sold a gun to the Parkland shooter in November 2017.
Dick’s reacted swiftly, staunchly aligning itself with the protesters, and permanently banning assault-style weapons from its stores. CEO Edward Stack explained the choice to stop selling assault-style rifles as follows: "We don't want to be a part of this story any longer. We actually sold the shooter a shotgun in November of last year and when we ... found out that we did this, we had a pit in our stomach."
Dick’s enacted an additional policy to enforce an age requirement of 21 years for purchasing firearms and hired a lobbyist to push for broader federal gun reform. That very day, the number of Twitter messages referring to Dick’s Sporting Goods jumped 12,000% from its average. The grand majority were positive (79%).
Many people are asking whether taking an explicit stand on such a contentious issue is a good idea. When Atlanta-based Delta Airlines severed ties with the NRA, Georgia’s legislature took retribution by eliminating tax breaks worth some $50 million.
In response, Edward Bastian, Delta’s CEO replied, “Our values are not for sale." Interestingly, Delta’s adjusted operating revenue of $9.8 billion for the March quarter improved 8%, or $715 million versus the prior year and marks a record for the company. Dick’s recently published earnings are also up. While same-store sales took a -2.5% hit from the lost gun sales, its ecommerce sales jumped 24% over the prior quarter’s, suggesting that their highly visible stand has not hurt their business.
These issues are never black and white. But it appears that brands that step out in front on a hot-button issue like gun control with courage and conviction are not being sanctioned by consumers. And with 84% of Centennials stating that more companies should take a stand on important social issues, we are likely to be seeing more of this kind of conviction from purpose-driven brands in the years to come.