ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida two weeks ago, a number of companies have taken a position in the debate over guns. Many severed ties with the National Rifle Association.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Today Walmart said it would raise the age to buy guns and ammunition to 21. That decision came the same day Dick's Sporting Goods announced it's no longer selling assault-style rifles like the one used in the high school shooting at any of its stores. That includes all Dick's stores and Field & Stream stores. It's not selling high-capacity magazines either, and it's also setting a minimum age of 21 to buy other firearms.
SHAPIRO: CEO Ed Stack went on ABC's "Good Morning America" to explain why.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")
ED STACK: We're staunch supporters of the Second Amendment. I'm a gun owner myself. But we've just decided that based on what's happened and with these guns, we don't want to be a part of this story. And we've eliminated these guns permanently.
SHAPIRO: Some customers today cheered the move. We caught up with Christina Reveir in Boise, Idaho.
CHRISTINA REVEIR: You know, I grew up around guns, and my family has guns. But I definitely don't think that anyone needs an assault rifle.
CHANG: Others said the company's announcement wouldn't stop violent crime. Here's Bruce Dickinson in Elmira, N.Y.
BRUCE DICKINSON: You can put down on paper anything you want. Somebody wants to get a gun, they're going to get a gun. If they're out there, they can find it. They can get it.
SHAPIRO: And other Dick's customers shrugged. Todd Jameson of Macon, Ga., says he has lots of guns, including multiple assault-style rifles. But...
TODD JAMESON: It's their opinion. It's their store. If they want to carry them, great. If not, that's up to them.
CHANG: We also wanted to get an expert's take on why a company would take such a stand, so we called up Dana Radcliffe. He's a professor of business ethics at Cornell University. I asked him, was Dick's Sporting Goods making an ethical decision, a business decision or both? Here's how he answered.
DANA RADCLIFFE: It seems to be mainly a strategic decision.
CHANG: What do you mean strategic decision?
RADCLIFFE: I mean, it's a decision that's consistent with the long-term interests of the firm. The reason I say that is that after the Sandy Hook shooting, Dick's took the assault-style weapons out of the Dick's stores, but they continued to sell them in the Field & Stream subsidiary. So if it were a matter of principle, it seems like they would have eliminated them from all the stores.
So I see this decision as more symbolic perhaps, calling attention to the fact that the system is not working. And I think that the leaders of Dick's were disturbed that Nikolas Cruz was able to buy a Dick's gun. And that could have been a Dick's weapon that he used. It didn't happen to be, but it might have been.
CHANG: Yeah. We should note that the man accused of committing the shooting at Parkland, Nikolas Cruz, had bought a gun at Dick's. It was not the gun used in the shooting.
CHANG: Let me just make sure I understand. Are you saying that this is a decision that reflects a desire to make a political statement but they know that that political statement won't cost them that much in terms of the bottom line?
RADCLIFFE: Yes. I think the leaders seem to be genuinely disturbed by the events, but they were also disturbed to have Dick's name associated with these sorts of events. And the fact that Nikolas Cruz bought a gun from Dick's made them a part of the story, even if it's only been a peripheral way. I don't think it's going to hurt them financially.
CHANG: They have the luxury financially of making...
CHANG: ...A political statement.
RADCLIFFE: Now, I don't mean to impugn their motives at all because I don't see it as a problem if it is a business decision. I mean, if they are doing it on principle, fine. If it's a business decision, that's OK, too.
CHANG: Are there examples of businesses that try to take a moral high ground on an issue even at the expense of profits and that backfired?
RADCLIFFE: Yeah. One that comes to mind is Smith & Wesson back in the early 2000s - called for greater restrictions on guns. And they were quickly shouted down and threatened with boycotts and had to back off.
CHANG: If there is a situation where a company would suffer long-term losses financially but say that we are taking this stand because it is the morally right thing to do on this particular issue, how would the company justify that to its shareholders?
RADCLIFFE: Well, it's hard to say (laughter) right now what the long-term interest is. That's part of the problem. We don't know what is going to be successful in the long-term. So I think a CEO is on safe ground in saying, you know, I'm really looking at the long-term. I mean, who can contradict that? But what I think you're getting at is just, what are the responsibilities of a company?
RADCLIFFE: If you're a CEO, you're also a citizen. And just because you're a CEO doesn't mean you cease to have the obligations of a citizen.
CHANG: Do you expect other companies to follow suit now, particularly companies that are in the business of selling guns?
RADCLIFFE: Well, I suspect so because some of the major investment funds are pressing companies to say what they're going to do. So if Dick's decision here can help move us in the direction of recognizing that there is a problem with the current system and that we've got to start getting serious about addressing it, then that's a positive, whatever the motivations Dick's may have.
Something I talk about in all my ethics classes is what I call the Spider-Man principle, that with power comes responsibility. I hold that everybody - you and me - everybody has power. So we have a situation here where Dick's actually has some power. And if they have that power, then it makes sense to say maybe they have a responsibility to step up and say, look; we need some sort of change.
CHANG: Dana Radcliffe teaches business ethics at Cornell University. Thank you very much.
RADCLIFFE: Thank you, Ailsa.
CHANG: And special thanks to member station WSKG, Boise State Public Radio and Georgia Public Broadcasting for contributing to this report.
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