Amidst a storm of anger and activism that followed the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, a cadre of corporations abandoned their partnerships with the National Rifle Association. According to the New York Times , more than 20 companies have severed business relationships with the NRA or pulled perks for the gun club’s members following pressure from the public.
The first company to abandon the NRA was the First National Bank of Omaha, which ended production of its NRA Visa card. Then came a host of airlines, rental car companies, and security and tech outfits. In addition, retailers including Dick’s Sporting Good, Walmart and Kroger’s announced they would no longer sell firearms or ammunition to customers under the age of 21.
In response, the NRA accused the companies of engaging in “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.” Lawmakers in the pocket of the gun lobby even made retaliatory moves against businesses that showed resistance to a hugely unpopular pro-gun agenda. The charge for companies to distance themselves was largely led by Marjory Stoneman students, who called out companies in the public square and on Twitter for their ties to the organization.
Today, the anger of the American public seems to have little effect on lawmakers. This anger has been more effectively channeled into campaigns against corporations, who are eager to avoid controversy and cultivate an image of “wokeness.” As Derek Thompson recently wrote in The Atlantic , “Corporations are becoming more democratic than democratic governance itself.”
In a recent interview, business ethicist and University of Pennsylvania professor Eric Orts predicted that corporations would have to become significantly more responsive to activism in the coming years. Orts noted that “50 percent of millennials thinks CEOs need to take positions on moral responsibility,” and that corporate pronounces will dictate purchasing decisions.
While the initial corporate responses to the Parkland shooting have done little to actually regulate guns, there are more aggressive corporate policy pushes in the works.
These corporate overtures are important, but largely symbolic. They have done little to move the needle on pressing public issues and recent public pushes for substantial concessions from corporations have been largely unsuccessful. Amazon, Apple, Roku and other streaming services, for instance, have resisted calls to stop streaming NRA TV. Corporations also continue to pump millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of congress members who push against gun reforms while putting no support behind activist efforts, including from Parkland students, to change the gun laws.
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While these corporate actions have done little to meaningfully change the policies that allow mass shootings to continue, they are evidence of the growing consensus on the need for gun reforms. An NPR/Ipsos poll conducted after the Parkland shooting found that an increasing number of Americans of all stripes are in favor of tighter gun regulations. According to the poll, “gun violence is now one of the most worrying problems in America, up 10 percentage points from October (from 27 percent to 37 percent).”
While these corporate actions have done little to meaningfully change the policies that allow mass shootings to continue, they are evidence of the growing consensus on the need for gun reforms.
The activism born out of Parkland has forced these changes quickly. In addition to the corporate actions, Parkland activism propelled Florida, one of the most gun-friendly states in America, to pass a series of toothy gun reforms earlier this month. Other states are mulling significant gun reforms and while congressional action at this moment seems unlikely, the Department of Justice recently proposed a ban on bump stocks.
And while the initial corporate responses to the Parkland shooting have done little to actually regulate guns, there are more aggressive corporate policy pushes in the works.
According to Vox, Wall Street firms are “reexamining their portfolios, dropping gun stocks, and asking weapons manufacturers what they are doing to make sure their products don't end up in a mass shooting.” Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey are preparing legislation that would restrict all state employee pensions funds from investing in firearms manufacturers, an idea that is being mulled in other states, including Florida.
This month’s “March For Our Lives” in Washington and across the country could further catalyze significant changes on gun control in corporate boardrooms and in the halls of Congress. Find details on the March 24 activism in D.C. or one of the over 764 sibling marches occurring in locales across the world. Also, contact your congressperson if you want gun control reform now.