Following the Parkland rampage and vast public outcry, many major companies have publicly ended their relationships with the National Rifle Association (NRA), which opposes a ban on assault-style weapons. Among the growing list of companies is Delta Airlines, which faces a threat of the loss of tax breaks from the State of Georgia in response to the airline ending a marketing relationship with the NRA.
For many companies, the decision to end discounts offered to NRA members will likely not significantly hurt their bottom lines. That may not be the case for Dick's Sporting Goods, however, which is willingly decreasing its product line and qualified buyer pool, and therefore its sales. As the New York Times observed, Stack is "deliberately steering his company directly into the storm."
This purpose-driven action is becoming more common in business leadership. It's a welcomed change: leaders willing to put their values forward, look at the long-term consequences of their practices and the interplay between business and community, and take responsible steps – even if it proves to be counter to their own best interest or introduces risk in the short-term.
Values-imbued leadership is being called out positively by the investment community. BlackRock Inc. CEO Larry Fink, for example, said recently that "to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society."
When companies like Dick's and Walmart make powerful statements through their actions, the commitment to longevity and community surpasses the short-term focus on quarterly earnings. Such actions reveal confidence in brands and corporate purpose, while affirming a newer view of corporations as standing for more than just a product line and sales.
What remains to be seen now is how the national conversation and progress on gun violence continue to evolve. Corporations and purpose-driven business leadership are only one force. Now, they are combining with student activism, outraged parents, and legislative leadership.
The latest polls show public opinion in the United States is swinging increasingly toward stricter gun laws. Even gun owners like Dick's CEO Stark who believe themselves to be defenders of the Second Amendment are making clear their beliefs that not all guns should be protected and not all individuals should own guns. Walmart, walking this same line, stated: "Our heritage as a company has always been in serving sportsmen and hunters, and we will continue to do so in a responsible way."
The fine line walked by these retailers puts into stark relief all the issues around gun sales - what should be banned and what shouldn't be banned – and what must be discussed and hashed out in both the business and legislative arenas. What's critical to answer is the question of whether we, as a country, leave the governance of gun purchases to purpose-driven retailers or elevate it to policy and regulation.
Commentary by Megan Kashner, professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
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