Less than two weeks after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., more than a dozen corporations, including Delta Airlines, MetLife and Hertz cut ties with the National Rifle Association. These companies will no longer offer a discount to NRA members, and many asked for their information to be removed from the NRA website.
After the outdoor clothing and equipment company REI released a statement announcing it would no longer carry CamelBak products in its stores after it discovered CamelBak’s owner, Vista Outdoor, is a major firearm and ammunition manufacturer and failed to make a statement following the Parkland shooting, Ann Arbor businesses like Bivouac, an outdoor clothing and supplies store, followed suit. Bivouac agreed to stop carrying CamelBak products after concerned customers of Bivouac emailed Bivouac Vice President AJ Davidson, demanding they confront the gun control issue.
Although they have never participated in similar NRA discounts as the national corporations severing their relationships with the NRA, Davidson said a statement from Vista Outdoor in regards to their relationship to ammunition and firearm manufacturing would have been a responsible addition to the recent gun control debate.
“It’s not so much that they sell guns — that’s not the issue,” Davidson said. “It’s just that after these mass shootings, they refuse to put out any kind of statement or make any kind of change that would help prevent these mass shootings, and as a company, they’re in a prime position to do something, or at least issue some kind of statement to show that they actually care.”
Jerry Davis, associate dean for Business and Impact at the Ross School of Business, has written several books on corporate activism, and most recently, an article for The Conversation. Given the speed and volume of companies severing ties with the NRA, Davis said he found this wave of corporate activism to be unprecedented.
“And now with the NRA boycott, it took two days (for corporations to sever relationships with the NRA),” Davis said. “Amazing. Nothing happens in two days, but two dozen companies basically cut ties with the NRA on the threat of a boycott, not even an actual boycott. So that just seemed pretty remarkable.”
While Davis said corporations typically shy away from political statements, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid taking a stand in 2018. With social media, consumers have a louder voice, making corporate practices and partnerships much more visible and subject to scrutiny.
“The speed of concerns or grievances to go viral or to become really well-known, that’s the biggest one,” Davis said. “The fact that Applebee’s fires a hostess because she posted something funny about a customer on Instagram, and this becomes some (issue of controversy) with thousands of people flooding Applebee’s with negative comments. That couldn’t happen before social media.”
Though social media has had a monumental effect in corporations renouncing the NRA recently, several mass shootings have occurred in the age of Twitter and Facebook without the same response from businesses. This time is different, as Stoneman Douglas students have gone viral for their videos, speeches and social media posts for the #NeverAgain movement, challenging powerful adults in Washington, D.C. and the NRA. Davis noted the role of the Parkland survivors has likely changed the conversation.
“The narrative seems to be that this is an unusually well-spoken group of kids that were clearly victims of this life-changing event, and they were speaking from an untarnished place,” Davis said. “It wasn’t that they came in with an agenda. They did not choose to be in this situation, and now they’re trying to find a way out of it. And that just has a moral clarity that’s hard to find.”
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that it would no longer sell firearms or ammunition to anyone under 21 and that it would also end its sales of assault-style rifles.
Though LSA junior Ryan Roose said he was encouraged to hear about Dick’s Sporting Goods’s statement, this same act can turn other customers away.
“My brothers and I talked about how Dick’s is doing that, we thought it was good, and we just supported that, and we want to shop more at their stores now,” Roose said. “We had friends that they didn’t want to shop there anymore because they didn’t think that Dick’s should be making political stances.”
While Davidson said Bivouac vocally supports environmental nonprofits, such as the Leslie Science and Nature Center and the Conservation Resource Alliance, they do not make overtly political statements or support political candidates as a business. Davidson echoed Roose’s concerns about deterring individuals with differing political opinions from purchasing products from Bivouac and said there’s a balance businesses have to strike to be competitive but also speak out on issues.
“It’s always a fine line of, once again, we feel like we know there are two beliefs on some things, and as a business you don’t want to do too much to discourage a group of people from shopping in the store,” Davidson said.
Part of toeing the fine line for Bivouac is giving customers the option to support different social causes. At the checkout line, customers can buy a Pincause pin for causes such as the National Student Walkout, the Women’s March and animal rescue. Though some consumers want companies to tread lightly on politics, Roose said he wants corporations to be openly political because he wants to align his shopping choices with his ideology.
“I definitely prefer when companies come out and make political statements,” Roose said. “I think users, for one, should know what their company stands for, and I think companies should be able to stand for what they want.”
While some consumers, like Roose, enjoy forthright political stances from companies, Davidson said Bivouac tries to support its values without being too “in your face.” However, he also said U.S. gun violence is not an issue in which to remain silent.
“I think there are certain issues that are so important and so big and so crucial to the future of America that at some point you got to say something, and you’ve got to take a stand somewhere,” Davidson said. “And I think this is one of those issues where it’s getting out of control. We need to start making change, so we’re going to do what we can do, as small as it might be, to show where we stand and where our values are.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this article mischaracterized Bivouac's former partnership with CamelBak, and incorrectly linked the store to the National Rifle Association. We regret the error.