Boy­cotts tar­get NRa

Com­pa­nies face mount­ing pres­sure to pick side

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By DAMIAN J. TROISE

NEW YORK — As the gun de­bate heats up fol­low­ing the mas­sacre at a Florida high school, com­pa­nies are un­der grow­ing pres­sure to pick a side: whether to stand by the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion or walk away.

Metlife, Delta and more than a dozen oth­ers have de­cided to end ben­e­fits deals of­fered to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mem­bers. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing FedEx, are stay­ing put. The de­ci­sion to stay or go for many com­pa­nies in­volves walk­ing a fine line that can im­pact their im­age for bet­ter or worse.

“How well can they po­si­tion them­selves so that they’re be­ing viewed as hon­est and sup­port­ive of what is a na­tional cri­sis and not walk­ing away from the Sec­ond Amend­ment?” Robert Pas­sikoff, pres­i­dent of Brand Keys, a con­sumer re­search firm, said.

The calls for boy­cotts have been cut­ting both ways, with gun rights and gun-con­trol sup­port­ers threat­en­ing to take their dol­lars else­where, de­pend­ing on a com­pany’s de­ci­sion.

Fedex is the lat­est com­pany to re­spond to con­sumer pres­sure, say­ing it will main­tain its dis­count for NRA mem­bers and sup­ports the right to own firearms, but does not be­lieve civil­ians should own as­sault ri­fles.

That re­sponse shows the nuances many com­pa­nies are deal­ing with in the cur­rent de­bate over guns. Sev­eral other com­pa­nies have also af­firmed sup­port for gun rights, but de­cided to cut ties with the NRA over its po­si­tions.

Over the week­end, Delta said it would end its dis­count rates deal for NRA mem­bers’ group travel and re­quested it be re­moved from the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site. But, it also said it con­tin­ues to sup­port the Sec­ond Amend­ment.

Delta’s bal­anc­ing act in par­tic­u­lar sparked a harsh re­sponse from Ge­or­gia’s Repub­li­can Lt. Gov. Casey Ca­gle. He threat­ened to use his po­si­tion to de­rail the $38 mil­lion-per-year sales tax ex­emp­tion on jet fuel that would pri­mar­ily ben­e­fit Delta Air Lines, call­ing it an at­tack on con­ser­va­tives. Delta is based in At­lanta.

The NRA has also pushed back, call­ing the de­par­ture of its cor­po­rate part­ners a “shame­ful dis­play of po­lit­i­cal and civic cow­ardice.”

Other com­pa­nies that have cut ties with the NRA in­clude First Na­tional Bank of Omaha, Hertz, Avis, Bud­get, En­ter­prise, Best Western, Wyn­d­ham, United Air­lines, Chubb and Starkey Hear­ing Tech­nol­ogy. Still, many oth­ers have main­tained their re­la­tion­ship, in­clud­ing FedEx and the less-well­known Ho­tel Plan­ner and eHealth.

The de­ci­sions come dur­ing an uptick in con­sumer ac­tivism, fu­eled by so­cial me­dia em­pow­er­ing more peo­ple to voice their opin­ions and val­ues. Com­pa­nies have be­come more aware of pub­lic sen­ti­ment that can be am­pli­fied over Twit­ter and other plat­forms.

That ac­tivist con­sumer at­mos­phere — cou­pled with the Feb. 14 Park­land, Florida, school mas­sacre and the al­ways heated gun-con­trol de­bate — make this a po­ten­tially tricky sit­u­a­tion for com­pa­nies look­ing to pro­tect their im­age and bot­tom line.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tion par­a­digm than it was five years ago and that’s the thing,” Pas­sikoff said. “The sense of im­me­di­acy has in­creased.”

The boy­cott move­ment is not just about im­age. Com­pa­nies have to take into ac­count their other con­stituents, par­tic­u­larly share­hold­ers and whether ties to the NRA will have any im­pact on their fi­nan­cial per­for­mance.

El­liot H. Lutzker, chair of the cor­po­rate law prac­tice group at David­off Hutcher & Citron LLP, said the boy­cott move­ment may have lit­tle im­pact on com­pa­nies fi­nan­cially. Sev­eral of the hos­pi­tal­ity firms that have cut ties can fig­ure out just how much of an im­pact cut­ting a dis­count ben­e­fit will have and act ac­cord­ingly.

“It’s re­ally a ques­tion of fidu­ciary duty,” he said.

The real power lies with credit cards and me­dia com­pa­nies, he said. Specif­i­cally in al­low­ing or block­ing pur­chases of firearms and NRA ad­ver­tise­ments.

So far, credit card com­pa­nies have re­sisted calls by some con­sumers to limit their cards’ use to pur­chase guns. Visa said it strives to make its pay­ment ser­vices avail­able to ev­ery­one within the con­fines of na­tional and in­ter­na­tional laws.

“We do not pro­hibit trans­ac­tions on our net­work for the pur­chase or sale of law­ful prod­ucts and ser­vices, in­clud­ing guns in the United States,” the com­pany said in a state­ment. Other credit card com­pa­nies did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

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