The chief executives of 145 U.S. companies pressed Senate leaders to expand background checks to all firearms sales and enact stronger “red flag” laws, marking the latest push by corporate America to pressure Congress into taking meaningful action on gun violence.
Signatories to a letter sent Thursday included the heads of major retailers, tech firms and financial institutions, including Levi Strauss, Twitter, Uber, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Yelp, Bain Capital and Reddit. The letter pointed to mass shootings in recent weeks — including those in El Paso; Dayton, Ohio, and Gilroy, Calif. — but also called out a broader epidemic of gun violence that kills 100 Americans each day and wounds hundreds more.
“As leaders of some of America’s most respected companies and those with significant business interests in the United States, we are writing to you because we have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers and all Americans in the communities we serve across the country,” the executives wrote.
“Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety.”
Corporate America has increasingly weighed in on — or been forced to reckon with — pressing social and political issues such as immigration and abortion. With regard to gun violence, companies in the retail and banking sectors have considered whether to overhaul their policies or distance themselves from the massive firearms industry. Gun sellers have come under acute pressure to limit the weapons sales, especially after 24 people were killed in shootings at two Walmart stores this summer.
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found Americans across party and demographic lines overwhelmingly support expanded background checks for gun buyers and allowing law enforcement to temporarily seize weapons from troubled individuals. The poll found 86 percent of Americans support implementing “red flag” provisions that allow guns to be taken from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others. In addition, 89 percent support expanding federal background checks to cover private sales and gun-show transactions.
Still, some companies have endured backlash after changing their policies or speaking out on the issue. Sales declined at Dick’s Sporting Goods after it overhauled its rules on gun transactions in the wake of a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., last year, with some customers calling for a boycott and dozens of employees walking off the job. More recently, as Walmart came under scrutiny after two of its stores became crime scenes, the National Rifle Association and gun rights groups encouraged members to stop shopping at retailers that tightened their open-carry policies.
Thursday’s letter specifically urged the Senate to pass a bill requiring background checks on all gun sales plus a strong red-flag law that would allow courts to issue extreme-risk protection orders. Earlier this year, the Democratic House passed legislation that would require background checks on all gun transactions, including unlicensed sales arranged at gun shows or online. But similar efforts have stalled in the Senate.
“Since Congress established the background check system 25 years ago, background checks have blocked more than 3.5 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers like convicted felons and domestic abusers,” the letter states.
But in the subsequent decades, the background check law “has not been updated to reflect how guns are bought and sold today,” the company executives wrote. They said the Senate should follow actions taken by the House to pass bipartisan legislation to update the background checks law, “helping to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”
The leaders also wrote that expanding red-flag laws would “enable families and law enforcement nationwide to intervene when someone is at serious risk of hurting themselves or others.”
Walmart, the largest employer in the country, did not sign Thursday’s letter. But in its own letter sent last week, the retailer urged Congress to call for a debate over reauthorizing an assault weapons ban. It also announced it would stop selling ammunition for military-style weapons and no longer allow customers to openly carry firearms in stores. Other retailers also changed their open-carry policies, including Kroger, CVS and Walgreens.
The CEOs’ letter was applauded by gun control advocates who noted the range of companies that took part. John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said the “unified corporate action represents a sea change in American culture,” and that elected officials should listen as “the experts on America’s consumers are speaking.”
“This letter, along with the recent announcements from corporations like Walmart and CVS to prohibit open carry in stores, proves that acting on gun safety isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s good for business,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “If this many major brands can act, surely the Senate can, too.”
Companies similarly joined forces to advocate for equal treatment of women in the wake of the #MeToo movement, said Anthony Johndrow, a corporate reputation adviser. But gun reform is unique in that it focuses on specific policies under Congress’ purview. Companies may not have the same legal power as senators. But the CEO letter serves as a reminder that they have influence — with their lobbying, with their financial contributions and with American consumers.
“What they can do is collectively make a statement and tie it to one unified message that sounds really reasonable,” Johndrow said. “They’re advocating for the most reasonable things that many Americans agree should happen.”