US retailers Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods on Wednesday became the latest companies to shift course on guns, announcing that they were ending firearms sales to consumers under 21.
Responding to the outcry over a Valentine’s Day Florida school shooting that saw a 19-year-old kill 17 people, Wednesday’s announcements are likely to pile more pressure on US politicians to take steps to enact some kind of gun control.
Dick’s Sporting Goods said it would remove assault-style rifles from stores and end all gun sales to consumers under 21, calling on politicians to enact “common sense gun reform.”
“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,” Dick’s chief executive Edward Stack said. “We have heard you. The nation has heard you.”
Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, later announced that it would also raise to 21 its minimum age to buy firearms and ammunition, the result of a policy review “in light of recent events.”
“We are also removing items from our Web site that resemble assault-style rifles, including non-lethal airsoft guns and toys,” said Walmart, which in 2015 stopped selling assault-style rifles.
Last week, other companies, including airlines, insurers and car rental chains, announced the end of promotions with the National Rifle Association (NRA), revealing a partial shift in US gun politics amid fervent student-led activism and intense social media campaigns.
“Are we at a tipping point on guns?” George Washington University political management professor Matthew Dallek asked in a column on Yahoo on Wednesday.
A Morning Consult poll found strong support for gun control within the broader population, with nearly two-thirds of registered voters backing tougher measures, including strong majorities among millennials considered important by marketers.
However, in the past, public support for gun control has risen right after shootings only to retreat a few weeks later, said Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup poll. “Before we pronounce that there’s been a major shift in terms of American public opinion, we need to see if it’s sustained.”
Companies are also keenly aware that they risk alienating customers who support gun rights, including the NRA, the powerful lobbying group which comprises more than 5 million members and has battled almost all gun regulation.
The NRA called last week’s announcements “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.”
A separate Morning Consult/Politico poll showed that the unfavorability rating among consumers doubled to 24 percent from 12 percent after announcing that it ended a discount for NRA members, while its favorability rating was unchanged.
Stack on Wednesday said he was prepared for a likely backlash following the Dick’s announcement.
“We know this isn’t going to make everyone happy,” he told the news and feature show Good Morning America.
However, after the students ordeal, “our view was if the kids can be brave enough to organize like this, we can be brave enough to take [the guns] out of here,” Stack said.
Companies that have shifted course have tried to thread the needle by championing gun ownership rights.
“Our heritage as a company has always been in serving sportsmen and hunters, and we will continue to do so in a responsible way,” Walmart said.
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