Dick’s Sporting Goods makes a statement, but will it make a difference?

February 28, 2018

By Ben Schmitt, Matthew Santoni, and Madasyn Czebiniak | Tribune-Review

Dick’s Sporting Goods shoppers weren’t sure Wednesday whether the Findlay-based retailer’s decision to end assault-style weapons sales and restrict gun sales to those older than 21 would prevent a mass shooting, but many admired the company’s nerve.

“I think it’s great; I don’t think anyone in the United States except military and police should have AR-15s,” said Rick Lofstead of Beallsville, Washington County, as he and his wife left Dick’s at the Westmoreland Mall. “I’ll shop there more now.”

Dick’s announced the change in response to the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student, is accused of gunning down 17 students. Cruz had purchased a gun from Dick’s, but it wasn’t used in the attack.

Standing outside a Dick’s Sporting Goods at Pittsburgh Mills mall, Josh Deforno of Upper Burrell said he owns a 9 mm handgun, but he didn’t buy it at a Dick’s. He shops there for hockey equipment, running shoes and sporting goods accessories.

“If it helps prevent other conflicts and issues that have been arising, I guess that it would be better,” he said of the new policy.

Gary Smail of Hempfield said removing the guns and committing not to sell high-capacity magazines are wise moves. He visited the Westmoreland Mall Dick’s Sporting Goods to confirm the guns and magazines were gone.

“I’ll be interested to see how the clientele reacts; if people who would come buy a basketball now will go somewhere else to buy that basketball,” he said.

Smail said AR-15s and similar weapons probably weren’t big sellers for the company, anyway.

Dick’s stock value rose about 0.7 percent by the market’s close Wednesday.

Retail analyst Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the New York-based Strategic Resource Group, said the decision and the early uptick in its stock value are compelling because sporting goods has performed the worst out of 14 retail sectors.

“Dick’s could have chosen not to do this, but for the future, consumers across America are very conscientious and they will reward Dick’s for taking a responsible and constructive stand,” Flickinger said.

He estimated that firearms-related sales represent about 1 percent of the retailer’s business, and sales of assault-style rifles at the 35 Field & Stream stores ­— and to buyers ages 18 to 20 — represent a fraction of that.

In a letter to customers, Dick’s CEO Edward W. Stack, whose father started the business in 1948, issued a four-point policy on gun sales:

• Assault-style rifles, also called modern sporting rifles, will no longer be sold at the company’s 35 Field & Stream stores, including ones in Cranberry, Washington, Erie and Altoona. The company stopped selling those rifles at its main Dick’s locations following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.

• Firearms will no longer be sold to anyone younger than 21.

• High-capacity magazines will no longer be sold.

• Bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic weapons to fire more rapidly, have never been sold in Dick’s stores and never will be.

Outside the Field & Stream store in Cranberry, the president of a Georgia-based gun manufacturer tempered his reaction to the announcement.

“I’m sure the corporation is under a lot of pressure probably from investors to make a statement, and they’ve done that. Whether I agree with it or not, that’s certainly their right and their privilege to buy and sell what they like,” said Gary Ramey, a Bethel Park native who is president of Honor Defense LLC.

Anthony Ogline, co-owner of Verona Gun Safe, said he expects to sell more AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.

“Sure, it will open the market to smaller dealers, especially with semiautomatic rifles,” he said.

Still, the Dick’s announcement irked Ogline.

“They are pandering to social media and pressure, basically,” he said. “It’s a mistake. My viewpoint is that firearms are not the issue.”

Phil Cook of Jeannette said he doubts the move would prevent a determined bad guy from buying a gun, a skepticism many customers and gun owners said they shared.

“If somebody wants to do something, they’ll get a weapon somewhere else,” Cook said.