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Corporate Social Responsibility and Gun Control Gets Tricky


The politically sensitive topic of gun control can have significant impacts on your corporate social responsibility strategy. The tragedy in Parkland, Fla., is inflaming outrage on various sides, with some calling for more gun control and others fearing their Second Amendment rights are in danger. Responses from businesses like Dick's Sporting Goods and Delta Air Lines have been critical of the National Rifle Association, fully aware many customers are cutting ties with businesses dealing with the NRA or selling weapons without restrictions. But does this alienate half their customer-base?

Gun control is a major topic in today's discourse, making it a certain aspect of corporate social responsibility strategy. How should your business address gun control, if at all? It's a question many businesses are asking, considering the nuances and polarizing nature of gun control.

The Role of Corporate Social Responsibility

Environmental and labor activism throughout the '70s and '80s helped result in the rise of corporate social responsibility, with businesses well aware they must sympathize with certain causes to relate with their communities and customers. The rise of the Internet results in digital mobilization of certain causes, prompting businesses to pursue visible forms of corporate social responsibility more than ever.

Gun Control and Corporate Social Responsibility

As corporate social responsibility strategies must adapt to public sentiment and urgings, the push for gun control is having a large impact. The gun control movement highlights how corporations have responsibility for their production factors regarding what they sell, the creation of inventory and what material is required. The Internet brings transparency regarding products and material, so doing business with a politically sensitive industry or business can be detrimental for business.

Businesses are also accountable for whatever happens to their merchandise after purchase, at least in the eyes of many consumers. It's a tricky, intricate situation all businesses are monitoring — and some, like Dick's Sporting Goods, are responding to with dramatic effect.

However, some will argue these initiatives from Delta and Dick's Sporting Goods are defiant in the midst of a capitalistic system, where a corporation's responsibility is to make as much money for its stakeholders as possible. Critics argue a business that places issues of social responsibility ahead of stakeholders' interests is likely to begin their descent into capitalistic failure. Thus, many businesses are struggling to appease the social call for gun control, without upsetting their bottom lines and stakeholders.

The Political Issue

The sentiment that businesses should strive first and foremost to make as much money for stakeholders as possible may be more realistic in a pure society. In the U.S. political system, lofty political donations have become a function of free speech, per Citizens United.

As a result, lobbyists’ contributions can significantly influence politicians’ positions. The National Rifle Association provides substantial contributions to politicians, who mold the rules and laws in our society, which impact everyone from citizens to corporations.

There's also justification for those who tout the Second Amendment as a reason to question a knee-jerk reaction call for overly-strict gun control. The constitutional law that declares each citizen's right to bear arms has a variety of reasons for its existence.

Gun uses tend to be practical, and, in many cases, necessary. While some collect guns for hobby or social shooting, many gun owners have arms for home protection, to sustain themselves with hunting and other essential functions. Fifty-six percent of gun owners describe themselves as protectors, so-called “Debbie Defenders” or “Guardian Garys” who all have firearms for protection and do not engage in recreational shooting.

There’s no doubt the call for gun control is raising the bar on corporate social responsibility. In the face of businesses like Dick's Sporting Goods taking substantial measures to provide more limitations on gun sales, businesses are feeling the need to react. It gets tricky trying to balance the quick-reaction to a tragedy, while also respecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms. There are justifiable calls for action on both sides, and businesses enter sensitive territory if they tread too far in either direction.

Photo: Dick's Sporting Goods

Scott Huntington is a freelance writer based in Burlington, Vermont.

Read more stories by Scott Huntington