The annual meeting of the National Rifle Association this May in Dallas, Texas, will be a bit different. Gun aficionados from across the land will have to get there by foot and wagon, because no airline or bus line will give them carriage. Forget renting a car. The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Centre will be bereft of outside food services. They’ll need tents too.
Not quite, of course. They are going to Texas, not Boston or Santa Monica. The NRA website is still demanding $2,500 (£1797) to have one of the building’s columns, indoor or outdoor, sheathed with your corporate propaganda. There are enough firearms companies around that they’ll probably get it. If you want it running up a single staircase to the main exhibition floor, that’ll be $7,500.
Largely missing this year, however, will be logos from the rest of corporate America. There are now over 20 major companies that have severed ties with the NRA in the wake of the Parkland High School shooting – many of which are household names. They include airlines like United and Delta, car rental firms like Hertz and Avis, and hotel chains Wyndham and Best Western.
A boycott it isn’t quite. Members will still be able to fly Delta and United to Dallas – they just won’t be getting the discount they were expecting. And maybe not at the hotel or car company they’ve booked. They probably won’t care terribly much. That all these companies have also demanded their names be removed from the NRA website also won’t make members weep at night.
“Let it be absolutely clear,” a defiant statement from the NRA said. “The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.”
But if you doubt this is a big moment, look what’s happening in Georgia, where Delta’s decision to spurn the NRA has triggered disproportionate fury from state Republicans. They are threatening now to torpedo legislation that was on the brink of being passed, which would give airlines at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Airport tax breaks on aviation fuel.
It’s tricky for Delta. The tax break would save them tens of millions of dollars a year. But it may not be smart of its GOP critics either.
While Delta is not about to take up a cheeky invitation, made this week by New York, to move its base from Atlanta to John F Kennedy Airport, their threatening the airline won’t sit well with the 33,000 Delta employees who live in the state.
Delta appears not be to be buckling. Meanwhile, backers of the so-called #BoycottNRA movement are applying pressure to other big corporations to join in, especially in the tech field, including Apple, Google and Amazon. Amazon is being asked to explain why it gives the NRA space on its TV streaming service to showcase its own gun-toting content.
FedEx has got itself in a pickle trying to play both sides. It put out a statement saying it disagrees with the policies of the NRA and wants things like a ban on assault weapons, but that it would not be rescinding the discounts it offers its members.
The company may have to change its mind as some of its customers threaten to punish it for being mealy-mouthed. First to say so was Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, which ships 100,000 units a year with FedEx.
Why is any of this happening? Since when did purveyors of soft-scoop ice-cream or even large airlines get themselves embroiled in national political debate in this way, especially debate as highly charged as gun violence in America? What’s next, Starbucks fighting racism? Apple involving itself in gay rights? (Actually both companies have done precisely both things.)
Company boards are suddenly tilting against the gun lobby, not because they’ve found a conscience when it comes to the NRA, even if its offensive response to the Florida shooting – attempting to blame Democrats and the media for the tragedy – surely made that easier.
No, this shift in corporate calculation is about the bottom line. They are reading consumer sentiment. The downside from alienating the NRA and its supporters is now outweighed by the greater risk that being seen to support them will result in a loss of customers and public prestige.
They’ve seen the polls, like one for CNN over the weekend showing 70 per cent of Americans now favouring stricter gun laws. That’s a level not been seen for a quarter of a century.
Sure, support for gun control usually spikes after an atrocity like Parkland. But after the last year’s massacre in Las Vegas, the same CNN poll showed only 52 per cent of Americans looking for new gun restrictions. This looks different, and maybe more enduring.
It’s possible that small changes in gun control laws at the federal and state levels will happen in the wake of Parkland. But mostly the country’s Republican leadership is still offering little more than blather and distraction.
Donald Trump’s idea of arming teachers is not just offensive – it’s also meant to take our eye off the changes that should really happen.
That so many companies are putting their heads over the parapet now should give us hope, however, that finally something meaningful will happen to tackle America’s gun violence scourge. They are acknowledging what the country’s political leaders – so many of whom still suckle at the NRA teat –continue willfully to ignore.
But politics is a customer-based business too, and eventually its practitioners in America, even Republicans, will have to catch up.
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