NEW YORK (AP) – Dick’s Sporting Goods will immediately stop selling assault-style rifles and ban the sale of all guns to anyone under 21, the company said Wednesday, as its CEO made an emphatic call for significant changes to U.S. gun policy after the massacre at a Florida high school.
The strongly worded announcement from the sporting goods chain that is also a major U.S. gun retailer came as students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, return to class for the first time since a teenager killed 17 students and educators with an AR-15 two weeks ago.
“When we saw what the kids were going through and the grief of the parents and the kids who were killed in Parkland, we felt we needed to do something,” Chairman and CEO Ed Stack said on “Good Morning America.”
The decision to overhaul its own rules on gun sales, and the emphatic words from Stack, put the company out front in a falling out between corporate America and groups like the National Rifle Association. Several major U.S. corporations including MetLife, Hertz and Delta Airlines cut ties with the NRA in the days following the Parkland shooting, but none were retailers that sold guns.
The announcement drew hundreds of thousands of responses on the company’s Facebook page, many of them emphatic thanks or criticism of the company for taking such a stand. Gun-control advocacy groups said voters and corporations are taking the lead on U.S. gun policy, and lawmakers need to catch up.
Dick Sporting Goods had cut off sales of assault-style weapons at Dick’s stores after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But sales had resumed at its smaller chain of Field & Stream stores. On Wednesday, Stack said that would end and he called on lawmakers to act now.
“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,” Stack wrote in a letter Wednesday. “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.”
Stack also revealed that Nikolas Cruz, who killed the students in Florida using AR-15 assault-style rifle, had purchased a shotgun at a Dick’s store within the past four months.
“It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting,” Stack wrote. “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.”
The National Rifle Association has pushed back aggressively against calls for raising age limits for guns, or limits on sales of assault-style weapons. Calls to the NRA were not immediately returned Wednesday
Stack called on elected officials to ban assault-style firearms, bump stocks and high capacity magazines and raise the minimum age to buy firearms to 21. He said universal background checks should be required, and there should be a complete universal database of those banned from buying firearms. He also called for the closure of the private sale and gun show loophole that waives the necessity of background checks.
The vast majority of Dick’s business is selling sporting goods like basketballs and sneakers. Joseph Feldman, a senior managing director at the Telsey Advisory Group estimates that the hunting category – which includes all guns – accounts for anywhere from 8 percent to 10 percent of the company’s sales. It has a much bigger stake in activities involving youth sports.
“The longer-term positive perception that they create a more welcoming environment will offset any lost sales in the year,” he said. He believes other retailers that devote a small percentage of their business to hunting will likely follow suit.
Walmart Inc., also a big gun seller, had stopped selling AR-15 rifles and other semi-automatic weapons in 2015, citing weak sales. Sporting goods retailer Bass Pro Shops, which owns Cabela’s, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Neither did the Outdoor Retail Association or Gander Outdoors.
Though large retailers like those sell firearms, the gun industry is extremely fragmented, according to market research company IBISWorld. Firearms can be bought from sporting goods stores or department stores, but they are also purchased online, from gun shows and small local gun stores, making the market hard to track.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. is based just outside of Pittsburgh in a state where the first day of deer hunting season is an unofficial holiday for many families. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment about the response from customers. Stack said on “Good Morning America” that Dick’s is prepared for any potential backlash, but it will never allow the sale of such guns in its stores again.
“This is the moment when business leaders across the country get to decide if they want to stand on the right side of history,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Acton for Gun Sense in America. “Mothers make the majority of spending decisions for their families, and we want to shop with businesses that care about the safety of our families – making this a smart business move, too.”
Pam Platt of Louisville, Kentucky, said when she heard about Dick’s moves she was thrilled and called the store’s customer service line to praise them. She said she told the representative who answered that she wanted her to “hear something good from somebody. “She perked up,” Platt added.
Platt says she now plans to start buying more at her local Dick’s store, including a pair of sneakers this week. She said she had been considering going to shoe chain DSW to take advantage of a $5 discount.
“When I go to the store, I will let them know why I am here,” she said. “I care about this issue.”
Despite the outpouring of public comments, Dick’s stock price was little changed Wednesday, up 1.3 percent.
AP Retail Writers Anne D’Innocenzio and Joseph Pisani contributed to this report.