Dick's Sporting Goods Stance Shows Change in Corporate Social Responsibility

After Dick's Sporting Goods CEO Edward Stack took a stance on assault weapons, a growing change could be approaching corporate leadership

Dick's Sporting Goods CEO Edward Stack took a stance on gun control Wednesday, announcing one of the biggest gun retailers in the nation would no longer sell assault-style rifles or high capacity magazines in stores and no longer sell firearms to anyone under the age of 21.

Leadership experts say the change in policy, that comes just two weeks after the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School, shows a growing sense of change and social responsibility in the way executive leaders handle serious issues.

Darren Rosenblum, a Professor of Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, says that Dick's Sporting Goods set a precedent for other companies to stand against assault rifles. 

"Given the size of the company, this is a pretty big statement to the market that there's a large segment of the gun owning population who don't agree with the NRA's position on access to assault weapons," Rosenblum said. 

While companies have no legal obligations, Rosenblum says he believes that companies will now feel a sense of social responsibility to change their image.

"I think that for all of these companies, the bottom line is that they really want to take a position that is viewed as a socially responsible," Rosenblum said. "What we're seeing is a shift in the norm of what is acceptable and there are certain kinds of engagements that become too controversial."

Senior Associate Dean of Leadership Studies at Yale University Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld says Stack's decision marks the beginning of a powerful movement. 

"While he's not the first mover, he's been a part of a very articulate, eloquent movement," Sonnenfeld said. "Just like we saw during the beginning of the #MeToo movement, this #NeverAgain movement is taking on tremendous momentum." 

Sonnenfeld says he believes Stack's moral leadership has the potential to inspire other CEOs and show them that they don't need assault weapons to run a successful business.

"If [Stack] didn't take that position, Dick's could have ended up losing a much larger portion of the general public that wants to be in a sporting goods store for basketball and swimming and football and all the other healthy sports that drive that business," Sonnenfeld said.

Rosenblum believes that the response to Stack's decision will encourage more companies to change their position. 

"The feedback so far has been universally positive. So I don't see this as discouraging other companies from taking a stance." "What we've seen is a lot of companies that have shifted their position over the past few days and I don't see that changing," Rosenblum said.

Walmart followed Dick's Sporting Goods' decision Wednesday by raising its gun purchase age restriction to 21 years old, removing non-lethal airsoft guns, toys and other items that resemble assault-style weapons from their website.

United Air Lines, Delta Air Lines, Hertz, Enterprise Holdings MetLife Insurance and a number of companies have all changed their policies on guns and cut ties with the NRA in response to the public outcry on gun control.

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