Business has the National Rifle Association on the run and that’s OK.
In the aftermath of the horrific Florida school shooting, nearly 20 well-known companies, including United Airlines, are breaking ties with the powerful gun rights advocacy group.
Not everyone favors this aggressive tack. On Monday, billionaire investor Warren Buffett suggested companies should tread lightly with controversial political stances because they alienate too many paying customers. It would be “ridiculous” for a conglomerate, like his Berkshire Hathaway, not to do business with gun-makers, he said during a CNBC interview.
The oracle of Omaha is wrong. The biggest problem with this anti-NRA crusade is that more companies haven’t joined it.
In addition to acting as responsible corporate citizens, these companies are teeing up an important new business strategy. They’re aligning themselves with an emerging market of younger, more socially conscious consumers and financial backers who want to connect with companies that address big social justice issues, including a crackdown on gun violence.
The corporate backlash against the NRA and its approximately 5 million members shows no sign of abating. In addition to United Airlines, the anti-NRA crowd includes Delta Air Lines, Hertz, Avis Budget, Enterprise, Symantec (owner of the LifeLock identity theft protection company), SimpliSafe (home security), insurer MetLife and First National Bank of Omaha, which offered a branded NRA Visa credit card.
Amazon, Google and Apple are under pressure to stop offering an NRA channel through their streaming services.
That channel is sort of an ongoing infomercial, showcasing segments about various firearms and gun-related issues, including one about the difficulty of buying an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon in California because of red tape and a 10-day waiting process. The NRA’s correspondent boasted about getting the gun in time for Christmas.
There are online petitions calling for an end to this programming. One petition on Change.org had about 166,000 supporters by midday Monday. So far, the digital behemoths aren’t discussing the NRA streaming issue.
Nevertheless, the controversy isn’t going away. Each company will be pressed into the uncomfortable position of justifying to customers and shareholders why they’re essentially partnering with the gun lobbying group.
In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the burgeoning national social media and grass-roots protests led by that school’s surviving classmates, institutional investors are turning up the heat on gun marketers.
Investing juggernaut Blackstone Group asked its fund managers to disclose information about ownership or lending to gun-makers or gun sellers. Other institutional investors are likely to do the same.
They’re doing more than taking inventory. Expect these shareholders and financiers to begin unloading their investments, sending a pointed message that they don’t want to be part of the gun business, which profits from the NRA’s advocacy efforts.
The NRA is fighting back, blasting the corporate boycott as “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.”
Actually, it’s just the opposite.
These companies are taking the courageous step of saying the NRA is an embarrassing, immovable obstacle to passing common-sense gun legislation. At the very least, a reasonable approach starts with ending the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons designed for combat zones, a step the NRA opposes.
Companies also are aligning with the multitudes of baby boomers, millennials and teenagers taking a stance against gun violence.
As more CEOs are discovering, customers prefer to patronize companies that are in sync with many of their broad social values— improving public safety, saving the environment, rationale immigration policies and more.
Increasingly, companies are being held accountable for their corporate behavior and often are blasted on social media when they disappoint. That may happen to FedEx, which on Monday decided to maintain its NRA discount program and is facing mounting criticism.
Yes, I occasionally fret that mighty corporations could be bullied by aggressive, nasty social media campaigns. But coming out in favor of safer schools, ending gun violence and turning away from the NRA doesn’t strike me as an over-reaction or damaging “groupthink.”
Here’s hoping more companies abandon the NRA.
It’s good for their business and customers.