Dick's Assault Rifle Ban Is The Right Call

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(Bloomberg Gadfly) -- After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, news analysis and punditry has focused on one question: Will this time be different?

For at least one large player in corporate America, the answer appears to be yes.

Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. said Wednesday it will stop selling assault-style rifles. It also will no longer sell firearms to customers under 21 years old and will not sell high-capacity magazines.

The retailer also urged legislators to take action, calling for them to ban assault-style weapons and to require universal background checks, among other measures.

This shouldn't have been a terribly hard decision for Dick's executives.

For one, the gesture isn't bound to have a major, direct financial impact. Dick's had already dropped such weapons from its eponymous stores after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Wednesday's policy change is for its smaller Field & Stream chain, which has just 35 locations.

This may be why investors don't appear to be sweating the decision, sending the stock up in pre-market trading:

And yes, Dick's will likely be criticized by shoppers who support the National Rifle Association's policy agenda. But, remember: Some of the policies Dick's supported on Wednesday are broadly popular. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 67 percent of Americans support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault-style weapons, and 97 percent support universal background checks.

In other words, Dick's isn't actually alienating that many consumers. And the policy change might even endear the chain more to customers who support gun-safety measures.

And even if there is backlash, I expect it will be fleeting. Social media has made it so that waves of outrage crest and crash extremely quickly. I suspect activists will only target Dick's for so long before channeling their ire elsewhere.

And when it blows over, CEO Edward Stack and Dick's board can still feel they made the right call.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Sarah Halzack is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She was previously a national retail reporter for the Washington Post.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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