“What a waste, and what a strange business model.”
That was the statement the National Rifle Association released in April after retail giant Dick’s Sporting Goods announced they would destroy their existing inventory of guns and ammunition. In February, days after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the company announced it would no longer sell assault-style weapons and ammunition in their stores and would raise the age to buy a gun to 21 years old.
On Wednesday, the NRA was proven wrong: during an earnings call, Dick’s revealed that first-quarter income rose 3 percent, and sales grew by 5 percent. The stronger-than-expected earnings pushed the company’s stock up by a whopping 27 percent.
Dick’s Sporting Goods was one of the first large corporations to publicly take a stand against gun violence in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On February 27, CEO Ed Stack announced his stores would no longer sell the kinds of weapons commonly used in mass shootings, like AR-15 semiautomatic guns.
Stack revealed that the shooter had purchased a shotgun from one of his stores months before the shooting. And while that gun was not used at Stoneman Douglas, the revelation rattled him and other executives within the company.
“We did everything by the book that we were supposed to do from a legal standpoint. We followed everything we were supposed to do, and somehow, this kid was still able to buy a gun from us,” Stack told CNN. “We said ‘we don’t want to be a part of this story any longer.’”
At the time, Stack acknowledged that the company’s public stand might very well negatively impact sales. “The [policy] is not going to be positive from a traffic standpoint and a sales standpoint,” he warned during an earnings call two weeks after announcing the new policy.
Indeed, within weeks several pro-gun groups cut all ties with the company, including several gun manufacturers which supply the company with hunting rifles and other weapons that the retailer still sells.
Rather than second-guess its decision though, the company doubled down, retaining a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm earlier this month to begin urging members of Congress to support gun control measures.
As recently as two weeks ago, the NRA took a premature victory lap, gleefully suggesting that “Dick’s has inserted itself into a tight spot from which it might not emerge unscathed, if it manages to survive at all. Its business with Second Amendment supporters in particular may well grind to a halt.”
But if the company lost any business from school shooting apologists, they more than made up for it with regular American consumers, some of whom rewarded the company with their business.
“There’s definitely been some benefits from people who have joined us because of the policy,” said Stack during Wednesday’s call.
Despite the caricature that conservatives like to project of the prototypical liberal — vehemently anti-capitalist, railing against rampant consumerism — corporations much prefer relying on hard numbers, and those numbers are unequivocal: progressives make up the overwhelming majority of economic activity across the country. Hillary Clinton won fewer than 500 counties in the last presidential election, for example, but those counties accounted for nearly two thirds of the country’s economic activity.
In other words, when large corporations wade into politics — either by choice or by accident — they are going to side with the people who spend more money every time. And those people are, by and large, progressive.
Polling bears this out as well. When the NRA lost nearly every single corporate sponsor of its membership program following a coordinated effort by Parkland survivors, a survey found that, while regular Americans viewed the decision by these companies favorably, pro-gun consumers responded with overwhelming indifference.
“Dick’s will have no one to blame but itself, and especially Mr. Stack,” prophesied the NRA earlier this month in anticipation of a weak sales quarter. In this respect, the NRA was correct: Dick’s has emerged as a leader of the corporate world in the fight against guns, and their commercial success is nobody’s victory but their own, and Mr. Stack’s.