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The Cost for Being a Business That Wants to Be a Social Justice Warrior

Posted by William Kirk, Partner | Nov 29, 2018 | 0 Comments

Following last year's terrible shootings in Parkland, Florida, Dick's Sporting Goods announced that they would no longer sell assault-style rifles and would raise the minimum purchase age to buy guns from 18 to 21.  It was a move that was applauded at the time by various social justice groups and investors.  The announcement made those at Dick's feel good about themselves.  

Well fast forward a year and Dick's has experienced significant loss in profits.  And its not just the loss of profit from no longer selling assault rifles, but the hunting community has turned their back on Dick's as well.  Avid hunters, as one can imagine, are avid supporters of the 2nd Amendment.  When Dick's decided to take this social justice stand, hunters took notice.  

Dick's Sporting Goods is now considering taking hunting supplies off its shelves in more of its 732 stores across the US, in light of declining sales in the sector.  Dick's, which operates Dick's Sporting Goods, Field & Stream and Golf Galaxy stores, announced a planned test-run in August, announcing it would pull the products from 10 of its stores where the sales of the gear had performed the poorest.

'We'll have to wait and see how the 10-store test does,' CEO Edward Stack said during an earnings call on Wednesday, according to a report by CBS.

Dick's is 'looking at a number of stores where the hunt category significantly under-performs,' Stack noted, adding that additional adjustments would be based on what's 'a smart thing to do from a business standpoint.'

The sporting goods chain removed assault-style weapons from all of its stores across 47 states in February.

The Pennsylvania-based retailer made the decision following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 killed and 15 injured in a brutal attack by a former student with an AR-15 rifle on Valentine's Day.

Although the decision to drop assault rifles from its shelves and raise the minimum purchase age for firearms to 21 at its stores was political, the shift away from hunting items is purely based on the bottom line for Dick's or so they say.

The third-quarter net sales report for Dick's showed a decline to $1.86 billion from $1.94 billion in the third quarter of 2017, with adjusted same-store sales down 3.9 percent.  'Sales continue to be negatively impacted by double-digit declines in hunt and electronics,' CFO Lee Belitsky said.

"Specific to hunting, in addition to the strategic decisions we made regarding firearms earlier this year, the broader industry has decelerated and remains weak, as evidenced by most recent background-check data' for firearms purchases.  In light of this information, hunting gear, which includes shotguns, ammunition, cross bows and rifle scopes, as well as electronic items are becoming a smaller part of the sales plan at the major retailer, in favor of sports team products, outerwear and athletic gear."

Pointing to these reasons for low sales numbers, Dick's insists removing assault weapons from its stores has not been a contributing factor.

In an open letter released on its website on February 28, Stack said it was time for the country to do more to end violence.

He acknowledged the Parkland massacre at which 17 people were killed and credited the student protesters who have been calling for gun reform ever since, saying: 'We have heard you. The nation has heard you.'

Gunman Nikolas Cruz bought one of his weapons at a Dick's. It was not the AR-15 he used in the killings but Stack said he should not have been able to purchase any weapons in the first place.  

'Following all of the rules and laws, we sold a shotgun to the Parkland shooter in November of 2017. It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting. But it could have been,' Stack wrote in the letter.

'Clearly this indicates on so many levels that the systems in place are not effective to protect our kids and our citizens. We believe it's time to do something about it.  We will no longer sell assault-style rifles, also referred to as modern sporting rifles. We had already removed them from all DICK'S stores after the Sandy Hook massacre, but we will now remove them from sale at all 35 Field & Stream stores.  We will no longer sell firearms to anyone under 21 years of age.'

The store also stopped selling high capacity magazines and joined the call on congress to ban assault rifles, all together. 

'We hope others join us in this effort to let our kids know that their pleas are being taken seriously,' Dick's publicly stated.

'Some will say these steps can't guarantee tragedies like Parkland will never happen again. They may be correct – but if common sense reform is enacted and even one life is saved, it will have been worth it.

'We deeply believe that this country's most precious gift is our children. They are our future. We must keep them safe.' 

I guess now we will find out what matters more the Dick's; these social justice reforms or their bottom line.  

About the Author

William Kirk, Partner

Bill Kirk has been named a Super Lawyer by Washington Law and Politics Magazine every year since 2003. He currently serves on the Board of Regents to the National College for DUI Defense and is the President of the Washington Foundation for Criminal Justice. Bill is one of only two attorneys in this state to pass the National College's Board Certification Exam.

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