First, full transparency: Back in 1980, when I was a college student, I spent a semester interning in Washington, DC for the National Coalition to Ban Handguns. We didn’t achieve our lofty goal in my six months at the coalition and my ambitions for reform have moderated from those days, but I still fall squarely in the camp of those who want to see major changes in gun regulation to reduce the carnage that has given us so many massacres.
It’s not as if I’ve been vocally active in the gun regulation fight since college. The failure of the American political and legal system to stanch the tide of gun killings over the last forty years has largely made me throw up my hands and turn away from this issue.
Which is why I am so shocked – and pleased – to see that a group of businesses have taken very public stands and made significant policy and operational changes in reaction to the Parkland, Florida shooting. In 17 years of watching companies take on social issues from the helm of Engage for Good, I can’t think of anything remotely as bold as these moves by major firms:
Citibank’s top brass put their commercial clients on notice that over time the bank would stop doing business with companies that sold guns to people under 21, sold bump stocks or high-capacity magazines or failed to perform background checks on potential gun purchasers.
A number of retailers (Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger, LL Bean to name a few) announced that they are tightening up their gun sales policies
And numerous companies from airlines like Delta to financial service firms like MetLife have ended programs that offered discounts to NRA members.
It’s a fascinating phenomenon. At a time when the country is more politically divided than ever and when partisans of the right and left seem more willing than ever to punish those who voice positions they don’t agree with, CEOs are taking stands that they know will alienate some of their customers.
In the case of Citibank, CEO Michael Corbat recently told The New York Times that employee reaction has been “virtually unanimously positive.” Customer reactions have been mostly positive, but the bank has been told by a vocal group of people that they strongly disagree with Citibank’s move.
On balance “the positives have significantly outweighed the negatives,’” he told the newspaper. Negative notes have been overwhelmed by positive ones saying “I’m moving everything I have to Citi as a response to this.”
I’m sure that Corbat is not saying that the gun policy decisions were made for a largely commercial reason of attracting business to the bank. But it is fascinating to see that on this issue – so long considered the third rail of American politics – a leader of one of our largest companies is willing to publicly say that taking stands supporting greater gun controls can help build a better world and the bottom line.
Stay tuned – it will be fascinating to see if more companies publicly come on board the gun control train in the weeks and months to come. Sadly, I’m afraid that we’ll continue to have gun killings of innocent students and others that will make it increasingly difficult for high profile firms to dodge this issue.