By JULIE CRESWELL
One of the nation’s largest sports retailers, Dick’s Sporting Goods, said Wednesday it was immediately ending sales of all assault-style rifles in its stores.
The retailer also said that it would no longer sell high-capacity magazines and that it would not sell any gun to anyone under 21 years of age, regardless of local laws.
The announcement, made two weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and staff members, is one of the strongest stances taken by corporate America in the national gun debate. It also carries symbolic weight, coming from a prominent national gunseller.
Late last week, after coming under attack on social media for their ties to the National Rifle Association, a number of major companies, including Hertz car rental, MetLife insurance and Delta Air Lines, publicly ended those relationships, issuing brief, carefully phrased statements.
But Edward Stack, the 63-year-old chief executive of Dick’s whose father founded the store in 1948, is deliberately steering his company directly into the storm, making clear that the company’s new policy was a direct response to the Florida shooting.
“When we saw what happened in Parkland, we were so disturbed and upset,” Stack said in an interview Tuesday. “We love these kids and their rallying cry, ‘enough is enough.’ It got to us.”
He added, “We’re going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view and, hopefully, bring people along into the conversation.”
Stack said he hoped that conversation would include politicians. As part of its stance, Dick’s is calling on elected officials to enact what it called “common sense gun reform’’ by passing laws to raise the minimum age to purchase guns to 21, to ban assault-type weapons and so-called bump stocks, and to conduct broader universal background checks that include mental-health information and previous interactions with law enforcement.
Stack said the retailer began scouring its purchase records shortly after the identity of the suspected Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, became known. The company soon discovered it had legally sold a gun to Cruz in November, though it was not the gun or type of gun used in the school shooting.
“But it came to us that we could have been a part of this story,’’ he said. “We said, ‘We don’t want to be a part of this any longer,’” said Stack.
That decision raised rounds of discussions with top executives inside the company as well as the directors, all of whom backed the decision to take a stance, said Stack.
As of Wednesday morning, the company said all AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles would be removed from its stores and websites.
Stack said Dick’s remained a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and will continue to sell a variety of sport and hunting firearms. Although he has never been a member of the NRA,
Stack said he is, in fact, a gun owner and enjoys trapshooting clay targets.
But when it comes to selling guns to individuals under 21 years of age or stocking assault-style rifles, Stack said his company was done. “We don’t want to be a part of a mass shooting,” he said.
This is not the first time Dick’s has made changes in response to a school massacre. In 2012, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dick’s removed assault-style rifles from its main retail stores. But a few months later, the company began carrying the firearms at its outdoor and hunting retail chain, Field & Stream.
This time, Stack said, the changes will be permanent.
Dick’s informed its employees of the new policy in an internal note Wednesday morning, shortly after Stack appeared on “Good Morning America” to discuss the decision.
Dick’s is not the first retailer to stop selling the semi-automatic guns. In 2015, Walmart said that it would no longer sell high-powered rifles in its stores in the United States. But Walmart sidestepped any controversy involving gun politics, attributing its decision to lower customer demand for the military-style rifles.
It is unclear what financial impact the decision will have on Dick’s business. Neither Dick’s nor its competitor, Cabela’s, now owned by Bass Pro Shops, have broken out firearm sales in their financial reports. But last August, Dick’s shares plummeted after it said weak results from its hunting segment resulted in its missing Wall Street’s second-quarter earnings estimates.
Overall, firearm sales for retailers and gun manufacturers have slumped since Donald Trump was elected president, as fears of stricter gun regulation receded. Firearm sales data for the United States is not readily available, but background checks tumbled more than 8 percent last year, the largest fall since the FBI began keeping track in 1998.
Stack said he and his company expected there would be mixed response – including fallout – to its new policy.
“The whole hunting business is an important part of our business, and we know there is going to be backlash on this,” said Stack. “But we’re willing to accept that.”
He added, “If the kids in Parkland are being brave enough to stand up and do this, we can be brave enough to stand up with them.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the move in a statement released Wednesday.
"I commend Dick's Sporting Goods, a member of the New York family, for their leadership in taking smart measures to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. Founded in Binghamton, this New York-bred company is taking a principled stand and setting an example of responsible corporate leadership for businesses across the nation," the governor's statement said.