In the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 teenagers and teachers were killed and 14 were wounded, social media exploded with expressions of sympathy. There is not one among us who doesn't grieve for the victims, their families, friends, and the Parkland community. However, while we can each post, shout, march, protest, and talk about change, few of us have a platform or a vehicle to be part of that change on a large stage.
What if you did? What if you could do more than take a stand? What if you actually had the means to do something, something meaningful and significant; not just to be a bystander but, in some small way, to be an architect of the future?
Edward Stack had that opportunity and, to his credit, he took it.
Stack is the CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods, an $8 billion national retailer of sporting related apparel, supplies, and, yes, guns--some of which were assault-style rifles. I say "were" because that changed recently.
This isn't a political post. I'm not taking up the debate over the 2nd amendment or attempting to convince anyone about the merits or risks of gun ownership. This is about the importance of one individual and one company taking a stand to try to make a difference.
As it turns out, the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, purchased a shotgun at Dick's. Although that particular gun was not used in his rampage, it nonetheless made the point that guns can legally get into the hands of people who because of their background, mental impairment, or age should not have the ability to so easily purchase them.
On February 28 Stack instituted a policy for Dick's that specifically bans the sale of assault style weapons, such as the AR-15 used by Cruz, high-capacity magazines, and sales of all other guns to anyone under the age of 21.
It's worth pointing out that Dicks' had previously discontinued carrying assault-style riffles in 2012 after Sandy Hook only to put them back into it's Field & Stream subsidiary a few months later. At last check, Dick's website still lists for sale 13 semi-automatic guns including the AR-7, which has less power and uses a slightly smaller .22 caliber cartridge. The key in this case is the term "assault-style," which refers to guns that have high-capacity magazines, a semi-automatic feature, and one military characteristic.
This time around Stack commented, during one televised interview, that Dick's would "never" reverse its position on assault-style weapons and sales of guns to anyone under 21.
Will Stack's move actually help curb the sale of assault weapons and access to guns for anyone under 21? The short answer is "no." Sales of assault-style weapons have increased by about 25 percent over the past five years. History shows that closing one channel through which guns or ammunition can be purchased only increases sales volume in the remaining channels, which include nearly 80,000 licensed dealers, shops, and pawn brokers.
So, why do it? To garner press? Unlikely, because the impact is at best neutral on Dick's business. To enhance the brand? While many praise the move and claim that it will make them life-long customers of Dick's, just as many are likely to swear off of Dick's for good. There are economic repercussions as well. Even if assault-style weapons and gun sales to those under 21 accounted for one one-thousandth of Dick's revenues, the cost of eliminating them would amount to about $8,000,000. That's an expensive PR campaign. And this doesn't take into account other implications for companies putting their brand in the sights of the NRA. For example, those faced by Delta Airlines, which in revoking discounted airfare for NRA members risks an almost certain denial of $40,000,000 in fuels tax credit restoration in Georgia.
It's also fairly clear that Stack's move will have little to no direct impact on mass shootings. According to an article in Vox, of the 156 mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 only two were committed by those under 21 using a semi-automatic rifle. Another nine shooters under 21 used conventional guns.
However, we could say the same of every post, rally, and protest. Why do we bother if no one person or organization can cause change to happen? Because the question at the end of the day is less about the influence any one person or organization has, and more about having the courage to use your position to stand up and do something rather than, as the song goes, just waiting on the world to change.
Whatever your stance on gun control it's clear that we need to do something to not only elevate but sustain this conversation as a nation. Our polarized political systems has proven to be woefully inadequate in doing that. However, all leaders, not just politicians, have the power, and I'd go so far as to say the obligation, to decide on the social values that their organization will speak up for and support.
I asked at the start of this article what you would do if you had the ability to influence. The reality is that you do. Your stage may not be as large and your sphere of influence may not be as great as that of the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you may not even make the cut for the Inc. 5000, but if you're lucky enough to lead then you also have an obligation to accept the mantle of leadership and all it entails. Part of that is establishing the social values that your organization will influence, support, and sustain.
Stack's actions may be negligible in terms of their direct impact. But, ultimately, no one person creates the future. We must each either accept or reject that we take part in and play a role in shaping it or that we are simply shaped by it.