- Hollis Johnson / Business Insider
- Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack had an “emotional” meeting with the families of several Parkland victims after the retailer he runs exited the gun business.
- In an October interview with Business Insider, Stack said he was awed by the “rational” and “common-sense” things the grief-stricken relatives had to say about gun control.
- “I thought, ‘If these families who’ve just gone through this feel this way, clearly Washington is going to get the message and do something,'” Stack said.
- But that’s not what ended up happening.
- Stack said that he encountered partisan gridlock while lobbying for gun reform in Washington, DC, with Republican politicians refusing to engage with ideas like universal background checks.
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On Valentine’s Day in 2018, a gunman shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It would later come out that accused shooter Nikolas Cruz had purchased an AR-15-style rifle at Dick’s Sporting Goods. That gun wasn’t used in the shooting, but it was the catalyst for the retailer nixing sales of all AR-15-style guns in its stores.
Gun control advocates applauded the decision, including Parkland shooting survivors David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, as well as Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was one of the victims. Stack said that he and his wife were invited to travel down to Florida to meet with the families of several Parkland victims.
“It was one of the most emotional days I’ve ever had, to listen to these parents talk about what happened to their son or their daughter,” Stack said. “When I left, I asked them, ‘What would you like me to do?’ And they said, ‘We’d like you to keep the conversation going.'”
Stack said he wrote his memoir “It’s How We Play the Game” in part to honor their request. Retailers have increasingly been shoved to the forefront of the gun control debate, as the public’s belief that Congress will take action wanes.
Stack said that during the meeting, he was particularly struck by the family members’ composure and reasonable requests regarding gun control, especially given their grief.
“Sitting down with those families in Parkland, they didn’t say we should ban all guns,” Stack said. “Basically what they said is, ‘We need to have common-sense gun reform so what happened to my family – my son, my daughter – never happens to anybody else.'”
Stack said that nowadays, many “rational people” fall into irrational arguments when advocating for their political position.
“And as I thought about that, if there was ever a group of people who had the right to argue their position irrationally, it was them,” he said. “And they didn’t. I thought, ‘If these families who’ve just gone through this feel this way, clearly Washington is going to get the message and do something.'”
The CEO joined other retail leaders in signing a letter in support of a bill that would require background checks for all firearm sales. The House of Representatives passed the bill in February, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not brought it up in the Senate. Stack said that when he traveled to DC to lobby for gun reform, he still expected to find politicians who were receptive to such measures.
But that’s not what ended up happening. The Dick’s CEO said that while all the Democratic figures he met with were open to his advocacy, Republicans would reflexively reject his message.
Stack said he was surprised by the reaction, given that certain gun control measures are no longer a “political hot button” among the electorate. A 2017 Quinnipiac poll found that 94% of respondents supported universal background checks.
According to The Center for Responsive Politics, the National Rifle Association – a gun lobby group that blasted Dick’s for exiting the gun business – donated $880,521 to Republicans and $10,500 to Democrats in the 2018 election cycle. During the 2016 election cycle, Republicans received $1,096,659 and $10,500 went to Democrats.
“I can’t understand why Congress argues their positions on gun control irrationally,” Stack said. “I was just disappointed, surprised, and fill-in-the-blank about how people in Washington can’t argue this in a rational way and come together with the intent to solve a problem.”