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US companies taking stands, facing retribution over guns

Joseph Pisani, AP Retail Writer | 3/1/2018, 8:30 p.m.
Kroger will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21 at the stores it owns, becoming the third major retailer ...
Kroger said Thursday, March 1, that it’s raising the minimum age to buy firearms and ammunition at all Fred Meyers stores to 21 years old, a day after Dick’s and Walmart announced similar moves. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

NEW YORK — Kroger will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21 at the stores it owns, becoming the third major retailer this week to put restrictions in place that are stronger than federal laws. The moves by Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart — and retribution on Delta by lawmakers — emphasizes the pressure companies are facing to take a stand.

The nation's largest grocery chain has sold guns from 44 of its Fred Meyer stores in the West, but said Thursday that since a mass shooting last month at a Florida high school that killed 17 people, it's become clear that gun retail outlets must go beyond what current U.S. laws requires.

"In response to the tragic events in Parkland and elsewhere, we've taken a hard look at our policies and procedures for firearm sales," Kroger Co. said in a release.

The change comes one day after Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods, both prominent gun sellers, tightened their company policies, and also a day after students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for the first time since the shooting there.

Companies like Dick's had already changed gun-sale policies in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, but the Parkland shooting has opened a fissure between a portion of corporate America and organizations like the National Rifle Association.

MetLife, Hertz and Delta Air Lines and other major U.S. corporations have already cut ties with the National Rifle Association, and at some political risk. Georgia lawmakers passed a bill Thursday that effectively punishes Delta Air Lines for cutting ties with the NRA, following through on Republican vows to deny a tax break worth an estimated $38 million for the company after it ended discounts for NRA members in the wake of the most recent school massacre.

One industry analyst said after the announcement from Dick's, and strong words from its CEO about the need for change, that other retailers that devote a small percentage of their business to hunting will probably follow suit.

"It is a risky game but you can't please everyone," said Joseph Feldman, a senior managing director at Telsey Advisory Group.

The announcements from Walmart and Dick's so far have drawn hundreds of thousands of responses on social media for and against the moves, from those who pledged to buy more from one company to campaigns urging people to thank the companies for their decisions to those who vowed never to buy from them again.

Penny Stalder, a Walmart customer Thursday in Atlanta, supports the company's decision and says people mature a lot between 18 and 21.

"I am a member of the NRA, and I have a concealed carry license, I just don't see the need for young people. They can wait," she said. "There are other kinds of weapons that they can use to hunt or do whatever they want to do but they don't need military-style weapons certainly."

But Ryan Terlecki, outside a Walmart in Milwaukee, said he didn't think the three years from 18 to 21 would make that much difference. "I guess they have their reasons, you know, but as far as I'm concerned the law is that we can carry guns and that's our right and I believe we should have that right."