Big companies have been dipping their toes into America’s gun debate for a few years. Now, some are diving in.
The chief executives of 145 companies — including Airbnb, Uber, DoorDash, Gap and Twitter — sent a letter to the U.S. Senate on Thursday seeking expanded background checks and “red flag” laws, which would let courts remove guns from people who might threaten themselves or others.
Also on Thursday, Publix — Florida’s largest grocery chain — asked customers not to openly carry firearms in its stores. That followed similar moves by Kroger, CVS and Walgreens. This month, Walmart quit selling certain ammunition and asked customers to refrain from carrying firearms in its stores. That company was shaken after a gunman killed 22 people in one of its stores in El Paso last month.
Signing a letter with other CEOs isn’t exactly a bold move, marketing experts say. Polls have shown the majority of Americans favor more restrictions on guns; those who don’t aren’t likely to quit using Twitter or Uber because the CEO signed a letter.
“I don’t think there is anything risky about trying to stem gun violence,” said Paul Argenti, a Dartmouth College professor of corporate communication. “The majority of people in this country agree with this.”
It’s unclear how much impact the letter will have. Many heavyweights — such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Starbucks, Tesla and General Motors — did not sign. Those companies didn’t respond Thursday to messages asking about the letter. And the House, Senate and President Trump have yet to come to an agreement on the various gun policies they’re debating.
Even some CEOs who did sign — such as Airbnb’s Brian Chesky and Lyft’s Logan Green — declined to comment further Thursday on the reasons they did.
“Companies feel trapped,” said Allen Adamson, co-founder of marketing firm Metaforce. “Because the country is so polarized on this issue, if they take a stronger stand than the letter, they will alienate customers and employees.”
The letter was organized by Levi Strauss and Co. CEO Chip Bergh and Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group. Bergh, a former U.S. Army officer, has been an outspoken gun control advocate. Levi Strauss has been asking people not to bring guns into its stores since 2016, when a customer shot and injured himself accidentally while trying on jeans.
“Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety,” the letter says. “Gun violence in America is not inevitable; it’s preventable. There are steps Congress can, and must, take to prevent and reduce gun violence.”
Pace University marketing professor Larry Chiagouris called the letter a “no-cost, low-risk, low-impact PR move” that’s not likely to affect the gun debate because the companies didn’t specify any consequences if the laws don’t change.
“Does it get them good vibes with the anti-gun world? Yes. Does it give them bad vibes to people who belong to the NRA? No,” he said. “Gun supporters will be oblivious.”