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Some companies walked away from the NRA after Sandy Hook. Will the same happen following the Uvalde massacre?

May 27, 2022, 10:30 AM UTC

Tuesday’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead is the type of shocking event that could force the business world to take a stand.

Companies today are increasingly expected to weigh in on social issues, and failing to do so can mean severe backlash from customers and employees. In March, the Walt Disney Company initially stayed silent about new Florida legislation that would ban discussions of sexual identity and gender orientation in the classroom. Disney employees were unhappy about it, compelling the company to publicly oppose Florida’s governor over the bill.

Similarly, when a Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked in early May, some major companies including Apple and Levi’s publicly promised they would provide their employees with abortion care moving forward, a type of activism that may happen again in states with loose gun laws. 

“How is anything that they’re offering to employees around this issue with respect to reproductive rights different?” Kris Brown, president of gun control advocacy group Brady United, told Fortune. “For a lot of people contemplating working and operating in some of these states, they feel like they should be paid a premium to work there.”

In the past, companies have cut ties with gun advocates such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) after horrific events like what happened in Texas this week, and others may follow.

“It’s a problem for a lot of employers right now,” Brown said. “If they’re not out there talking about this, then it falls really flat to their employee base.”

America’s gun lobby

Historically, companies have made their stance on gun issues clear by aligning or cutting ties with the NRA.

In the past, the NRA has blamed school shootings on violent video games and suggested that the best defense against them is to give teachers weapons of their own. In the hours after the Uvalde shooting, some Texas politicians resurfaced calls to arm teachers, in response to President Joe Biden’s demands for more stringent gun laws.

The NRA, a major political donor, wields serious political influence. Gun advocate groups spent $15.8 million on lobbying last year, a record high, dwarfing the $2.9 million spent by gun control organizations. Of these pro-gun groups, the NRA is the most powerful and prominent, spending more each year than all other gun advocacy groups combined. The NRA spends around $3 million annually on lobbying, but that does not include funds that are more difficult to track, such as contributions to political action committees and independent donations.

Thousands of companies are partnered with the NRA due to the group’s large membership—it claims to have more than 5 million members, even though that number has previously been called into question

The NRA established its Business Alliance in 1992 to “provide NRA member businesses with a marketplace to sell goods and services to fellow NRA members,” according to the company’s website. But while the alliance still counts thousands of businesses in its ranks, many have left it in the past.

Cutting off the NRA

Two mass shootings in the past 10 years that were similar to the one in Uvalde have spurred many companies to leave the NRA alliance.   

After a gunman attacked schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, leaving 20 children and six adults dead, companies with close ties to the NRA were called on by customers to pull out of Business Alliance deals. Backlash led international hotel chains Best Western and Wyndham Group in 2017 to end their programs that granted hotel discounts to NRA members.

In 2018, companies from sectors including travel and insurance made a statement by cutting Business Alliance ties with the NRA barely a week after a gunman killed 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Fla. 

Companies that had special partnerships with the NRA before Parkland, including Delta Airlines, United Airlines, the First Bank of Omaha, MetLife Insurance, and several car rental agencies, pulled out of their Business Alliance deals amid a firestorm of customer criticism. 

Shipping company FedEx was among the more vocal holdouts against cutting ties with the NRA, saying at the time that it would never adjust its rates or change its rules based on its customers’ “politics, beliefs or positions on issues.” But even FedEx eventually caved in October 2018, as many corporations felt compelled to speak on the issue.

“I have not seen the risk department, the C-suite, and employers thinking about this issue quite this way before,” Brown said.

The dead Business Alliance deals and bad press were a hit to the NRA, as the association’s revenue had plunged from $280 million in 2018 to $165 million in 2021 according to an analysis by firearms policy news outlet The Reload. The decline in revenue came as spending on legal fees and political lobbying hit record highs during the same period.

But many companies still have active partnerships and affiliations with the NRA. The group’s Business Alliance currently has 2,035 companies in its directory, including two in overseas American territories, one in Canada, and one in an unnamed foreign country. These include credit card payment processing company Clearent, logistics company TransGuardian, and tax filing service TaxAct.

Of the eight companies that publicly advertise their benefits for NRA members on the NRA’s benefits page—including the three companies listed above, software provider Orchid, and four different e-commerce and retail arms of outdoor apparel company Gearfire—none responded to Fortune’s request for comment as to whether they are considering distancing themselves from the NRA after the Uvalde shooting. But it took some companies months to change their policies after the Parkland massacre, and a similar process could play out this time.

Some companies that have previously been pro-gun have reversed to become vocal gun control advocates, such as retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods. Former CEO Ed Stack made the company into a figurehead of the movement after Parkland by banning gun sales in over 100 stores.

Dick’s revenues increased after these policies were implemented, amid sales improvements at local stores that replaced guns with local merchandise.

“Companies out there that lead on this issue will be hugely rewarded in the marketplace,” Brown said, adding that making their positions clear on issues such as gun control is becoming inevitable for companies.

“Either they get credit for taking that stand or they get slapped for being way too late,” she said.

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