How corporate pressure changed the national conversation on gun control

Boycotts and calls for accountability have changed the dialogue drastically in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

CREDIT: George Frey/Getty Images
CREDIT: George Frey/Getty Images

Calls for stricter gun control following mass shootings are nothing new. Legislation that would restrict certain individuals from getting a hold of the assault-style weapons often used during those shootings almost always fails and is always opposed by the National Rifle Association. The conversation eventually slips from the public’s mind until the next shooting occurs, starting the cycle all over again.

Two weeks after the latest massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, however, the script has completely changed.

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Politicians and the NRA are still attempting to silence the gun control debate by calling for “thoughts and prayers,” criticizing others for “politicizing” the tragedy, and accusing them of trying to abolish the Second Amendment. But the survivors of the latest tragedy have pushed back this time, amplifying one another’s voices and calling for actual reform. Following a CNN town hall on February 21, in which students, teachers, and parents confronted NRA-backed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and NRA Spokesperson Dana Loesch on the issue, nationwide calls for gun reform measures grew even louder.

On February 20, ThinkProgress published a list of about two-dozen companies that offered incentives or discounts to NRA members. That sparked a movement, prompting people around the country to take to their phones and social media and call on those companies to sever ties with the massive gun lobbying group.

The protests have since transformed into a widespread phenomenon, with public pressure forcing a diverse set of companies to enter into the gun control debate in a number of different ways.

Companies end their corporate partnerships with the NRA

The first company to end its corporate sponsorship with the NRA was the First National Bank of Omaha. For over a decade, the bank had been offering NRA members special branded Visa cards. In a tweet on February 22, the bank announced that “customer feedback” had prompted it to review its relationship with the NRA.

The dominoes began to fall. Many of the companies on ThinkProgress’ initial list began severing their own ties with the NRA as well in the weeks that followed: the day after Bank of Omaha’s announcement, Enterprise Holdings — which operates three major car companies, including Enterprise, Alamo, and National — stopped giving discounts to NRA members. Two days later, SIRVA, which owns moving companies Allied Van Lines and North American Van Lines, stopped its gun lobby discounts. Security software company Symantec, home security company SimpliSafe,  auto insurer MetLife, and eventually Lockton Affinity, an insurance company that sells gun owners the NRA’s Carry Guard program, also followed suit.

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The list of companies found to have been doing business with the NRA grew to 32, including Delta and United Airlines, which both also ended their relationship with the NRA on February 24.

To date, a total of 24 companies have ended their relationships with the NRA in response to public backlash.

FedEx won’t drop the NRA, so other companies drop FedEx

Not all companies have cut ties with the NRA in the wake of the Parkland shooting and subsequent boycotts. The most prominent of those businesses is FedEx.

The shipping giant offers a 26 percent discount to members of the NRA’s business alliance. And ThinkProgress exclusively revealed the company also had a secret deal with the NRA and the gun industry to bend its own rules and ship firearms with two-day service.

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Despite calls to drop those deals, FedEx issued a statement last week likening ending the special discounts to discrimination. “FedEx has never set or changed rates for any of our millions of customers around the world in response to their politics, beliefs or positions on issues,” the statement read.

That statement has only amplified calls for the company to sever ties with the NRA. Already, a number of companies within the entertainment industry have said they will take their shipping business somewhere else, such as World of Wonder, a production company that has produced a number of television shows, including RuPaul’s Drag Race and Million Dollar Listing. Others boycotting FedEx include major Hollywood talent agencies ICM Partners and CAA.

Stores raise the minimum age for customers looking to buy firearms

Major gun retailers have also been under pressure to start changing their policies and a few corporate chains have done just that. On Wednesday, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart announced they would be raising the minimum age requirement to purchase a gun from 18 to 21. L.L. Bean and Kroger (at its Fred Meyer stores) later followed suit.

Dick’s, in its announcement, also vowed to stop selling assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines. WalMart hasn’t sold such rifles at its stores since 2015, but the company said it would also remove items resembling “assault-style rifles, including non-lethal airsoft guns and toys.”

Companies end business relationships with gun manufacturers

Outdoor retail co-op REI does not sell firearms at its stores but the company is trying to distance itself from any products tied to the gun industry. REI announced on Friday it would be placing a hold on future orders of CamelBak water bottles, Camp Chef portable grills, Giro helmets, and Blackburn bike accessories, because the parent company of those brands, Vista Outdoor, also owns Savage Arms, a firearm and assault-style rifle manufacturer.

Banks rethink their business ties to gun manufacturers

On February 19, columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin suggested in a New York Times Editorial that credit card issuers could push back against the NRA by not allowing their products to be used to buy firearms. Following that editorial, a Bank of America spokesperson issued a statement to Axios claiming the banking giant and others in the industry would rethink their relationships with gun manufacturers.

The statement read:

We are joining other companies in our industry to examine what we can do to help end the tragedy of mass shootings, and an immediate step we’re taking is to engage the limited number of clients we have that manufacture assault weapons for non-military use to understand what they can contribute to this shared responsibility.

BlackRock changes its investment approach to gun manufacturers

BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager and has 11.7 million shares of gun-related stocks in 29 different funds. The company has also been the target of activists from the Gays Against Guns group that was formed following the 2016 massacre at the gay nightclub in Orlando, long before the latest shooting in Parkland.

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In a client update on Friday, BlackRock said that, moving forward, it will offer customers a choice of products that “exclude firearms manufacturers and/or retailers if clients choose to do so.”

The company is also engaging with firearm manufacturers and retailers about their business policies and practices. For manufacturers, BlackRock plans to ask about a range of business practices such as:

  • Strategies and processes for managing their reputational, financial and litigation risk associated with manufacturing civilian firearms.
  • The steps they are taking to support the safe and responsible use of their products.
  • How they determine where their products are being distributed.
  • Strategies they employ to monitor how their products are being sold?
  • Whether they are investing in research & development to promote the safety of their products.

And for retailers, BlackRock plans to inquire about issues including:

  • The types of firearms they sell and the share of the company’s revenue and profit those products represent.
  • Their policies and practices for determining to whom they will sell firearms to.
  • Strategies they employ to prevent the potential misuse of firearms they sell.
  • The steps they are taking to support and promote gun safety education at the point of sale.

While it is unclear what domino will fall next and what business will take part in the anti-gun violence movement, post-Parkland, one thing is clear: the national conversation surrounding gun safety and control has changed.