Editor’s Note: Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and a mom of five. She lives in Colorado. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
After the recent mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio — one of which took place inside an El Paso Walmart — several major American companies not only changed their own corporate gun policies, but in some cases called on Congress to pass stronger gun laws.
Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, Wegmans and Schnucks each announced they would prohibit open carry in its stores. In addition, Walmart said it would stop selling certain kinds of guns and ammunition.
These companies want to be on the right side of history, but their leaders also know that standing up for gun safety is good for business. In the face of inaction by Congress to protect their constituents, Americans are looking to companies to keep them safe from gun violence when and where they can.
A new online poll conducted by Edelman Intelligence showed that the majority of Americans would feel more favorably toward a CEO who supports gun safety laws. In fact, the poll found that corporate reputations get a boost when companies and their leaders advocate for specific measures like comprehensive background checks. The major takeaway: “Executives have the public’s permission to use their platforms to draw visibility to the issue and support gun safety laws.”
And CEOs from some of America’s most recognizable brands are doing just that by saying “no” to the dangerous practice of open carry in their stores.
The dangers of people openly carrying loaded semiautomatic rifles in public — which is legal in 45 states, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund — are apparent: Laws in a majority of states allow people to openly carry loaded guns in public with no background check, no training and no permit required. It’s impossible for any employee to ascertain the intentions of a stranger carrying a semiautomatic rifle.
Moms Demand Action volunteers recognized the dangers of open carry early on — and chose to do something about it. After all, women are a majority of these companies’ customers and we make a majority of the spending decisions for our families. That’s why, in 2014, Moms Demand Action launched a national campaign asking Kroger to prohibit open carry in its stores.
We created a national billboard campaign, held rallies at Kroger stores across the country, garnered hundreds of thousands of petition signatures, and used the hashtag #GroceriesNotGuns on social media. That same year, we also began asking Walmart to stop allowing open carry in its stores. Since then, not only have these companies changed their policies, but more and more companies are joining our national coalition fighting for stronger gun laws.
In its statement about changes to its open carry policy, Kroger said, “Kroger has demonstrated with our actions that we recognize the growing chorus of Americans who are no longer comfortable with the status quo and who are advocating for concrete and common sense gun reforms.” Walmart and CVS made similar statements. They join companies like Levi Strauss & Co., TOMS, Dick’s Sporting Goods, L.L. Bean and REI, all of which recently made it part of their corporate policy platforms to support gun safety.
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Given America’s gun violence crisis, which kills over 100 Americans every day, CEOs are finally starting to speak out and support policies and laws that will protect their employees and customers in the communities where they operate.
If business leaders can listen to their customers, why aren’t lawmakers in Washington listening to their constituents? The vast majority of Americans want stronger gun laws, like background checks on all gun sales and a strong Red Flag law, that would allow families and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from someone who is deemed to be a risk to themselves or others. But Congress hasn’t passed even these most basic of federal gun laws, despite broad public support.
Just as corporate leaders are acting on the issue of gun safety, we need our leaders in Congress to act when they go back to work in Washington this week. These corporate wins for gun safety should be a lesson to all lawmakers: Listen when the people demand action — or suffer the consequences.