Remember the name Ed Stack. As the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, a chain of 727 stores nationwide, he has shown more leadership in trying to solve the nation’s gun violence problem than all the politicians in Washington combined. Stack, 65, is not just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk down the path of citizen involvement – even though it has cost his company dearly.
In February 2018, Stack couldn’t tear himself away from news reports following the fatal shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. He watched surviving students and their parents speak to reporters about the 17 dead and the emotional scars the mass shooting had left on the community. Stack says the event, perpetrated by a 19-year-old mentally disturbed former student carrying two semi-automatic rifles, had a “profound effect” on him.
“I’m a pretty stoic guy,” he told the New York Times recently. “But I sat there hearing about the kids who were killed, and I hadn’t cried that much since my mother passed away. We need to do something. This has got to stop,” he said.
Within days Stack did do something. He ordered Dick’s Sporting Goods stores to stop selling all assault-style rifles. He further ordered store managers to stop selling high capacity ammunition magazines and to refuse to sell guns to anyone under the age of 21, no matter what local laws mandated. Then Stack did the unthinkable by taking a reported multimillion dollar hit to his bottom line. Instead of returning his store’s inventory of assault rifles and their accessories for a refund Stack ordered all the weapons destroyed. It was a $5 million loss, but he decided destruction was a better move than to return the rifles for resale to potential criminals. Stack simply wanted no part of it.
Following Stack’s lead in 2018, Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon stepped up to announce his stores would no longer sell firearms or bullets to anyone under the age of 21. In September 2019, after two fatal shootings inside Walmart stores, McMillon announced three major changes: Walmart stopped selling rifle ammunition used in military-style weapons, it stopped selling ammunition for handguns and Walmart stores in Alaska stopped selling handguns, marking a “complete exit” from all handgun sales.
Ed Stack’s leadership on this issue made me wonder. What if the top executives at more major gun selling outlets took similar stands? What if they also decided they wanted no part of guns potentially winding up in the hands of disturbed individuals? What if this idea of putting public safety over profits resulted in a trend toward selling guns from only a pared down number of outlets? What if in-depth background and age requirement checks were conducted before every purchase? What if a federal law was passed requiring all states to keep up-to-date lists of citizens with violent mental health issues so that information could be shared with those conducting the background checks? What if it became illegal to buy a gun or ammunition via the internet?
That’s a lot of ‘What ifs’, right? Look, the stand Mr. Stack spearheaded will not completely wipe out the problem of the wrong people getting and misusing guns. But we have to keep public safety as the top priority and find a way to do that without trampling on anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights. Eliminating the number of places that a disturbed or criminally minded person can buy ammo and weapons is a positive step by any measure. To those who believe these baby steps are meaningless, I say they are not.
The opposing view, of course, is the response from the gun rights folks, the NRA in particular. The moment actions like Stack’s or McMillon’s are announced there is a hue and cry. There are threats of widespread boycotts of those who dare take a stand. The internet (and my mailbox) overflow with warnings about a government conspiracy to “take guns away!” There seems to be no recognition from that sector that America has a gun violence problem, not among the NRA’s law abiding membership but among those who should never have a gun. Crossed arms and dug in heels, ignoring the obvious and deadly facts, will not solve the problem.
There must come a time when we stop arguing and break through this deadlock because the death toll keeps rising. The latest Pew Research statistics show there were nearly 24,000 depressed and desperate Americans who used a gun to kill themselves in 2017. Another 14,500 were murdered by someone who shot them. During the first 9 months of this year 21 mass shootings took the lives of 124 people. When does this record-breaking tally start to slow down?
No, a solution to our gun violence will not come quickly or all at once. Nor will it ever be absolute. But the status quo is simply not acceptable, and steps must be taken. What if we could all agree on that as a starting point?