After selling a gun to the Parkland shooter, Dick’s Sporting Goods ends sale of assault rifles

Dick’s Sporting Goods ad from 2012

Ed Stack, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, appeared on Good Morning America to announce the company would no longer sell assault rifles like the AR-15 or high-capacity ammunition clips. While companies like Delta and FedEx are hedging their positions, Dick’s statement demonstrates a clear stand on the issue. Such a statement comes with risks, but they’re not as great as the risk of equivocating.

I’ve copied the Dick’s open letter below. Commentary is my own.

We at DICK’S Sporting Goods are deeply disturbed and saddened by the tragic events in Parkland. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims and their loved ones.

But thoughts and prayers are not enough.

Commentary: At this point, people on both sides have very little patience for platitudes, thoughts, and prayers. The provocative and moving statements by the students who were there, like Emma Gonzalez, make me suspect that the debate is going to shift from the usual posturing. By opening in this way, Dick’s signals that it’s talking about action, rather than just words. I still believe all statements, including this one, should start with a clear lede that tells the story. In this case, that would be “Dick’s will no longer sell assault weapons, and is changing its policy on firearm sales.”

We have tremendous respect and admiration for the students organizing and making their voices heard regarding gun violence in schools and elsewhere in our country.

We have heard you. The nation has heard you.

We support and respect the Second Amendment, and we recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens. But we have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America – our kids.

Commentary: This appears to be taking both sides: supporting the students as well as the Second Amendment. But the path to actual action in a divided nation is to create a policy that is not at either extreme. In this case, that policy is to continue to sell guns, but restrict sales of weapons that are not intended for defense or hunting. With these statements, Dick’s is attempting to get both sides to listen to what the CEO is saying.

Following all of the rules and laws, we sold a shotgun to the Parkland shooter in November of 2017. It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting. But it could have been. Clearly this indicates on so many levels that the systems in place are not effective to protect our kids and our citizens.

We believe it’s time to do something about it.

Commentary: This may be the most extraordinary sentence in the statement. Dick’s is actually taking responsibility for selling a weapon to the youth who killed 17 people in Parkland. I’m sure their PR experts and lawyers counseled against it, and the easiest thing for Dick’s to do would be to do nothing. When you read statements of this kind, look for what the company unequivocally takes responsibility for; it tells you more than anything else where they stand and why.

Beginning today, DICK’S Sporting Goods is committed to the following:

  • We will no longer sell assault-style rifles, also referred to as modern sporting rifles. We had already removed them from all DICK’S stores after the Sandy Hook massacre, but we will now remove them from sale at all 35 Field & Stream stores.
  • We will no longer sell firearms to anyone under 21 years of age.
  • We will no longer sell high capacity magazines.
  • We never have and never will sell bump stocks that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly.

Commentary: Dick’s is still selling guns. But it’s now drawn a line on what kinds of guns it sells. While the company halted sales of these weapons after other massacres, the CEO has stated that this ban is permanent. These bullets (no wordplay intended) lay out the company’s stance more clearly than any of the other corporate statements I’ve read in the wake of this shooting.

At the same time, we implore our elected officials to enact common sense gun reform and pass the following regulations:

  • Ban assault-style firearms
  • Raise the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21
  • Ban high capacity magazines and bump stocks
  • Require universal background checks that include relevant mental health information and previous interactions with the law
  • Ensure a complete universal database of those banned from buying firearms
  • Close the private sale and gun show loophole that waives the necessity of background checks

We hope others join us in this effort to let our kids know that their pleas are being taken seriously.

Commentary: With this statement, Dick’s creates a very specific set of positions. When a firearms retailer asks for regulation, it creates a stance that others — other retailers, and lawmakers — can copy. In contrast to the NRA, whose stance is unilaterally against any additional regulation, this is a position responsible firearms owners could actually get behind.

Some will say these steps can’t guarantee tragedies like Parkland will never happen again. They may be correct – but if common sense reform is enacted and even one life is saved, it will have been worth it.

We deeply believe that this country’s most precious gift is our children. They are our future. We must keep them safe.

Sincerely, Edward W. Stack
Chairman & CEO
DICK’S Sporting Goods

Commentary: Platitudes. But the substantive part of the statement stands.

Corporate courage requires running towards controversies, rather than skirting them

The management at Dick’s is smart enough to realize that, wherever the gun debate goes, they’re in the middle of it. NRA zealots will hate any show of openness to regulation. Gun-haters will boycott the store as long as it sells any sort of weapon. When companies like FedEx hide behind legalities in this debate, they remain controversial and subject to boycotts. So Dick’s determined that the only responsible path for their business is to take a stand on what it takes to sell firearms responsibly.

When your company is headed into controversy, remember this. The objective is not to get everyone to like you. When you determine the responsible path, follow it, and explain your reasoning clearly. You have very little to lose, and a lot to gain in leading the debate.

This is particularly true in any regulated industry. The companies that are regulated should lay out a commonsense set of regulations, as Dick’s has here. Rather than attempting to fight all regulation (and, if you lose, getting saddled with stupid rules), this enables the companies to describe what they believe would be a fair way to compete while keeping people a little safer.

A few words about “assault rifles”

The “assault rifles” provision of gun regulation gets people more upset than anything else. People who don’t understand guns think it’s easy to ban “assault weapons.” Others point out that rifles like the AR-15 fire the same bullets, at the same rate, as hunting rifles. By definition, semi-automatic weapons don’t require reloading between shots. Once you allow that, what difference does it make?

But hunting rifles like the ones that Dick’s will continue to sell are designed to so that you can raise them to your eye, aim them, and fire them. That’s very different from a pistol-grip weapon with a large magazine that makes it easy to fire dozens of shots without aiming particularly carefully.

Massachusetts has some of the strictest weapons regulations in the country, as well as the lowest rate of firearms deaths. No matter what regulations pass Congress, there are going to be guns and people are going to shoot each other or themselves. But regulations can make a difference in how many people get killed, and how easily.

Here’s the video of Ed Stack on Good Morning America.  (And in case you’re wondering, look closely at the ad at the top of this post. Those rifles in the ad that look like assault rifles? They’re actually air rifles.)

 

10 responses to “After selling a gun to the Parkland shooter, Dick’s Sporting Goods ends sale of assault rifles

  1. Nicely said. I’ve just shared this column in my LinkedIn feed, quoting passages where you urge companies to boldly take a stand.

  2. Josh, your analysis and commentary are spot-on. Thank you.

    There is one sentence where I feel a word may be missing.

    “I still believe all statements, including this one, should with a clear lede that tells the story.”

    As with many of us, I am sure your mind works faster than your hands can type. 🙂

    Best,

    Raj

  3. How does one define “assault rifle”? You added an interesting qualifier above by saying “assault-style rifle”. Either way, most use these terms to describe an AR-15. Some even think that the ‘AR” in that name actually stands for “assault rifle”. It does not. My point is that the term “assault-rifle” is thrown around as a scare tactic to describe anything that looks like a “machine gun”, which is a fully automatic firearm. We all know those are already illegal for civilian use. Moving on…

    The fact is, an AR-15 is a semi-automatic .223 caliber rifle that happens to look scary because of it’s design aesthetics. A .223 is one of the most common caliber rifles you can find, and it comes in countless shapes and configurations including the AR-15. While Dick’s sporting goods is removing AR-15s from their product portfolio as an admirable show of bold action and good faith, I guarantee they aren’t going to remove any wooden stock semi-automatic rifles that do exactly the same thing. Take for instance a high-end rifle like a H&K 630, which fires the exact same .223 round via a semi-automatic action of varying capacity magazines. Or how about semi-automatic .308’s? My father used to use that deer hunting back in the 70s & 80s – the same caliber round as an AK-47 by the way. What about lever-action rifles? Have you ever seen a skilled marksman fire off 6 or 7 rounds with a lever action rifle in about the same speed as a semi-automatic? I have. Should we ban those too?

    Dick’s won’t ever remove any of those because wooden rifles aren’t as scary as a black polymer stock AR-15 to people who don’t understand guns. To those of us educated, law-abiding, responsible, pragmatic citizens who do understand guns and believe strongly in the 2nd amendment, this tactic by Dick’s hardly represents anything remotely close to common sense. To us, it just feeds the fear frenzy that is driving this debate, and makes gun control zealots feel good. It may help the smoke clear a little, especially if this tactic spreads to other retailers, but it will do nothing to curb the very real problem of senseless gun violence.

    I sincerely long for a policy discussion in D.C. and elsewhere that actually addresses the root causes of why these tragedies happen. There have always been evil people, and there always will be. But these kinds of things (mass-shootings in schools) didn’t happen when I was a kid, and I’ve read studies that show we now live in a time where there are fewer guns per US household than at any time in the last 40 years (I’m 45). But somehow guns are the problem now? Cruz wouldn’t have shot up that school if he didn’t have an AR-15? I don’t buy it. There’s a more systemic problem here. How many calls did the Broward county sherriff get on this kid? 30? 40? And yet no action? How does THAT happen today after everything we’ve seen over the past decade?

    For the record, I’m all for universal background checks, license requirements, age limits, and any other real reforms that make it harder for would-be murderers to gain access to firearms – ANY firearms. But even then, we all need to admit that they’ll still find a way to get one if they’re motivated enough. So that leaves us with the real question: What’s motivating them? How do we recognize the warning signs? How do we actually stop them from acting on their motivations? I don’t have those answers. Nobody does yet. But until we start trying to figure that out instead of making lists of specific “assault” guns to ban, this will keep happening.

    Here’s an interesting study from the University of Chicago if anyone doesn’t believe my numbers claim: http://www.norc.org/PDFs/GSS%20Reports/GSS_Trends%20in%20Gun%20Ownership_US_1972-2014.pdf

      1. Thanks Josh. I love that you’re tacking this topic, and having an open and honest discourse about it. We need more of this.

    1. You are right.

      Dicks should just stop selling semi-automatic rifles, regardless of stock shape or calibre.

      There is no need for civilians to have semi-automatic rifles. And no need for a magazine with more than a handful of rounds.

      The typical shooter can not do as much damage with a bolt action rifle as a semi-auto.

  4. Great analysis, Josh. The statement from Dick’s is pretty much forthright and it also places them out of the ugly political mess to come. Dick’s has sidestepped the issue of what to ban and from whom, etc.

    Dick’s just won;t be selling something that looks like an assault rifle, they won’t be selling high-capacity magazine, and they won’t be selling to someone under 21, actions that help avoid selling to disgruntled students with a Rambo fantasy to shoot up their school–and which place Dick’s out of the frame of the majority of public indignation during the next steps in this changeover.

    Dick’s will still sell polymer stock rifles, but they’ll probably just look like typical hunting rifles. The stores will probably not miss much in sales since they’re mostly located in big malls (at least where I live and travel) and may even be rewarded with greater sales since few gun buyers are “gun nuts” and will reward a company they feel is taking an ethical stand.

    Their message is so clear and their exposure is so minimal. I’ll definitely give them credit, but we all know they looked carefully at the pros and cons, and decided they could lose the “assault rifle” sales and make that up selling more other outdoor and fitness kit they carry while other gun retailers stand by stammering.

  5. The lesson to be learned from Dicks Sporting Goods grandstanding is “Don’t be a Dick!” There. short, sweet, and truthful. Refreshing.

  6. Does anyone remember the Nice terrorist attack? Using only a truck, a disgusting terrorist killed 86 people and injured 458 others. There was no ‘assault weapon’ used, magazine capacities to cite, there was nothing but an evil heart and a willingness to attack innocent people. Thankfully, the whole incident ended when police killed the attacker, with a gun.

    I will never shop at Dick’s Sporting goods again. For the record, I’ve never bought a gun from Dick’s. I have bought thousands of dollars worth of sports clothes and equipment there over the years. This will be the beginning of the end, and Dick’s will join the other failed companies who spit in the faces of their most loyal customers.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.