In the wake of another American mass shooting, this time at a high school in Florida, the business world is toughening its stance on gun control.

A majority of Americans say they want tighter restrictions on who can buy guns, against a backdrop of at least 1,607 mass shootings since 2012.

But in a country where the right to own a gun is a touchstone for deep political divides, there has been a lack of legislation to restrict access to powerful weapons.

Investigative magazine Mother Jones researched the link between gun ownership and deaths

The first sign that corporate leaders would take matters into their own hands came a little over a week after the shooting. On 22 February, the First National Bank of Omaha announced it would not be renewing its contract to produce National Rifle Association-branded Visa cards.

Students in Florida march in support of gun control.
Students in Florida march in support of gun control.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Since then, in response to a public backlash branded #BoycottNRA, dozens of businesses have been severing their ties with the pro-gun group, cutting discounts previously in place for members of the organization. Other businesses have gone even further, putting in place policies that the government has considered but failed to implement.

For example, Dick's, America’s largest sporting goods supplier, has announced it is raising the minimum age for gun and ammunition buyers to 21 and will no longer sell military-style weapons.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims and their loved ones. But thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Edward W Stack, the company’s CEO, said on Twitter. “We recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are law-abiding citizens. But we have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us.” Other companies, including America’s largest retailer, Walmart, have made similar announcements.

The moves have not been without controversy, with some saying businesses have no place embedding themselves in broader political and cultural debates. But that’s not what consumers think. In 2017, research firm Edelman found that over 50% of people are more likely to buy from a brand that speaks up about controversial issues than a company that doesn’t.

Others argue corporate America hasn’t gone far enough. For example, in an op-ed for the New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin called on titans of the finance industry to stop doing business with gun sellers, following the lead of PayPal, Square, Stripe and Apple Pay.

“There’s a real opportunity for the business community to fill the void and prove that all that talk about moral responsibility isn’t hollow,” he points out. Let’s hope more businesses seize that opportunity.