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Retailers pass minor arms purchase restrictions: the two perspectives

March 29, 2018

Businesses overly praised for ineffective gun control

Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida, many have been reassured to see large retailers drop assault weapons from their stores and make them more difficult to purchase. These actions have been widely lauded by some, yet retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart comprise only a fraction of overall firearms sales. As such, they should not be receiving such excessive praise for changes that will likely result in little difference in total firearms sales.

Since the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, its students have taken a strong stance against gun violence through both conventional and social media. Unlike many mass shootings in the past, however, whose protest movements have seemed to fizzle out after a time, the current wave of anti-gun violence protest has attracted considerable attention and momentum, and the issue has been placed in the national spotlight.

“If you compare the U.S. with other countries, after one mass shooting they pass stricter gun laws and the number of mass shootings in the country decreases tremendously,” said Intersections officer and junior Dianna Shen. “In the U.S., we’ve had a huge number of mass shootings, and nothing has been done to stop them. The number only gets larger.”

With such force behind this movement, corporations have fallen in line with the students; many large retailers that sell assault weapons such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and REI, will either raise requirements to purchase assault or stop carrying them altogether, while raising restrictions on all other firearms in general. The reactions to these decisions have been largely positive.

“I think it’s good because in general, most people don’t need assault weapons,” said senior Davin Tjong. “Those things are just for war, and we’re not fighting a war here.”

Regardless of public opinion, however, it remains to be seen whether these changes will have a significant impact on overall firearms sales. Currently, only 12 percent of AR-style rifles, like the one used at Stoneman Douglas, are purchased from retailers, with the large majority being sold at specialized gun stores. Additionally, after every mass shooting, firearms sales increase as fears of gun restrictions inflate, with the most recent shooting being no exception. Thus, although these retailers’ new policies may make a small dent in firearms sales, they will likely not balance out the increased sales following Parkland.  If retailers wished to affect gun sales in a significant manner, they could contribute money to political causes. Retailers, however, have instead decided that the best course of action would be to increase restrictions on gun purchases in their own stores, rather than target policies that may make a bigger difference. One interpretation of these events is that these large retailers are riding the wave of public opinion to garner goodwill from potential customers, rather than actually pursuing effective change. However, this may not be so bad.

“Even if it’s a public relations stunt it’s good because it’s making a statement,” said Tjong. “Even if you argue that it’s not the retailers’ place, it’s sending a message to lawmakers that they want to see change too.”

These retailers are thus deserving of praise to an extent because they are at least attempting to make change, and have done more for student safety than Congress, which has yet to see any motions for gun control gain traction following the Parkland shooting.

“When people talk about stricter gun laws, I feel like there’s a misconception,” said Shen. “Pro-gun control people don’t want the government to take away guns altogether; they merely want to make it more difficult to obtain one. For places such as Walmart to be restricting sales for firearms I feel is a step forward in achieving this. It’s way too simple for people to obtain guns.”

It remains to be seen if these retailers are setting the pace for the nation, and if lawmakers will succeed in passing further firearms control legislation. Should mass shootings become more infrequent as a result of their actions, only then should these retailers can receive more praise for their role in reducing access to firearms and attracting national focus on this challenging issue. Until then, however, their actions should be viewed with reserved praise.

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    Retailers take small steps to change American gun culture

    Recently, Facebook has drawn fire for harvesting and selling excessive amounts of data from their customers without permission. Indeed, regulatory bodies exist to dissuade excesses of corporate action.

    However, situations such as Facebook’s present a poor comparison to the actions of retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods or Walmart when it comes to their policies regarding the sales of firearms, such as raising the minimum purchasing age to 21 or stopping their sales altogether.  Foremost, these decisions do not negatively impact their customers as a whole, unlike what Facebook has done. One could easily shop at these retailers and ignore their firearms sections completely. On a deeper level, though, this question remains: should retailers truly be criticized for their actions, however disingenuous, for the sake of profit, public relations or other goals that advance the ultimate object of a corporation: to achieve profit?

    I previously posited that criticism could be directed to these retailers for weak attempts to stem the onslaught of mass shootings through changing only their own store policies and not attempting to target the root of the issue by lobbying for congressional attention.  However, such efforts are time consuming and prohibitively expensive; the National Rifle Association spent over $55 million during the 2016 year on lobbying and independent campaign expenditures. It is unreasonable to expect a corporation to spend such amounts of money on a venture not core to its business.

    Additionally, it may not even be legal for corporations to restrict firearms sales on the basis of age.  Lawsuits are already in progress that accuse corporations of restricting an adult’s right to a firearm on the basis of the second amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms.  Should it not be commended further for corporations to stick their neck out at all in an environment that may not even be receptive to their actions legally?

    One aspect of the criticism directed toward these retailers is that they only account for a small portion of total firearms sales, and that they should accordingly receive less praise for their actions.  However, I believe that their new policies are targeting a more abstract aspect of the mass shooting epidemic: American culture.

    America has a long and storied history and relationship with guns; indeed, you could say that firearms are tied to the national spirit.  This relationship carried America through its revolutionary period, and stands as a symbol to some of the protections of freedom and liberty against a potentially tyrannical government.  Guns have become tied to the idea of strength and manhood for some sections of the country.

    This, by itself, would not be so troubling, were it not for another issue that exacerbates the problem: mental health in America.  One in five adults in America has a mental health issue, and 8.2 percent of youths have depression, of which 76 percent remain untreated.  Furthermore, 56 percent of Americans with mental health issues do not have access to treatment. This epidemic, in combination with the widespread penetration of firearms into the American psyche and culture, results in situations in which those who suffer from mental health issues sometimes seek out the use of guns as an outlet for their issues.  

    One can look to Nicolas Cruz of the Parkland shooting as an example.  Clearly, he should not have been in a position to be able to purchase a firearm, seeing as he had a history of mental health problems such as anger issues.  Unfortunately he did; and he sought specifically to use firearms as a method to vent his anger.

    Culture is created through social patterns established over long periods of time.  In Japan, bowing to others is culture. In France, it is customary to kiss others on the cheek in greeting.  In the US, the ownership of firearms is cultural; indeed, it is a rite of passage in some areas of the country to go hunting.  This culture has long-standing, historical roots; but can alsoenable those with mental health issues to harm others by providing an easy avenue to harm and destroy.  

    Culture, however, does not change quickly.  Antiquated practices and the usage of traditional, scientifically unproven medicines are still existent in an environment that is easily able to offer viable, modern alternatives.  Thus, to change the gun culture of the United States would have to be a long-term initiative, only incrementally achievable.

    I again return to the actions of retailers in response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting.  Some may be of the opinion that those retailers received too much praise in practicing change onlywithin their own stores, and ultimately affecting little outside their own spheres of influence.  However, as I would argue, isn’t that enough?

    Change comes slow.  Perhaps critics are right, and what these retailers have done is not enough to bring about the beginning of change.  However, even if the changes to these retailers’ policies are ever-so-slight, perhaps they can herald the beginning of the beginning of change.

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