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NRA Facing Corporate Backlash          02/24 10:48

   The National Rifle Association is facing a corporate backlash as companies 
take a closer look at their investments, co-branding deals and other ties to 
the gun industry following the latest school massacre.

   NEW YORK (AP) -- The National Rifle Association is facing a corporate 
backlash as companies take a closer look at their investments, co-branding 
deals and other ties to the gun industry following the latest school massacre.

   A handful of companies have ended discount programs with the NRA as the 
group aggressively resists calls for stricter gun control after a gunman killed 
17 people at a Florida high school last week.

   The moves came as petitions circulated online targeting companies offering 
discounts to NRA members on its website. #BoycottNRA was trending on Twitter.

   Members of the NRA have access to special offers from partner companies on 
its website, ranging from life insurance to wine clubs. But the insurance 
company MetLife Inc. discontinued its discount program with the NRA on Friday. 
Car rental company Hertz and Symantec Corp., the software company that makes 
Norton Antivirus technology, did the same.

   "We have notified the NRA that we are ending the NRA's rental car discount 
program with Hertz," the company tweeted Friday.

   Insurer Chubb Ltd. said it is ending participation in the NRA's gun-owner 
insurance program, but it provided notice three months ago. The program that 
provided coverage for people involved in gun-related incidents or accidents had 
been under scrutiny by regulators over marketing issues.

   Those defections arrived after car rental company Enterprise Holdings, which 
also owns Alamo and National, said it was cutting off discounts for NRA 
members. First National Bank of Omaha, one of the nation's largest privately 
held banks, announced that it would not renew a co-branded Visa credit-card 
with the NRA.

   Other companies, including Wyndham Hotels and Best Western hotels, have let 
social media users know they are no longer affiliated with the NRA, though they 
did not make clear when the partnerships ended.

   The swiftness of the corporate reaction against the NRA has differed from 
that of past shootings, including the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School 
massacre that claimed 26 lives and the killing of 58 people in Las Vegas last 
fall, said Bob Spitzer, a political scientist at SUNY Cortland and a scholar on 
gun politics. Spitzer said the reaction was likely a reaction to the student 
mobilization that followed the Florida shooting, but he said it was too soon 
tell how significantly it will sway the country's wider gun debate

   "If this is as far as it goes, it probably won't have any measurable effect. 
If other companies continue to (cut ties) it can start to have an adverse 
public relations effect," Spitzer said. "Usually what happens is that the storm 
passes, and the NRA counts on that."

   Spitzer noted that it was not the first time big business has been pulled 
into the gun debate. In 2014, Chipotle asked customers not to bring firearms 
into its stores after gun-rights advocates brought military-style rifles into 
one of its Texas restaurants. A year earlier, Starbucks Corp. made a similar 
statement after the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting.

   Larry Hutcher, an attorney who specializes in commercial law and litigation, 
said companies are reacting to a perception that public opinion is shifting on 
gun regulation. Polls show growing support for gun control measures, including 
97 percent backing for universal background checks in a Quinnipiac University 
survey released Tuesday.

   "It's based on the fact that these companies and their marketing officers 
are reading the tea leaves. It makes economic sense to get on the side of the 
majority of Americans," said Hutcher, co-managing partner of Davidoff Hutcher & 
Citron LLP.

   NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said this week at the 
Conservative Political Action Conference that those advocating for stricter gun 
control are exploiting the Florida shooting.

   President Donald Trump has aligned himself with the NRA, suggesting some 
teachers could be armed so that they could fire on any attacker. However, Trump 
has also called for raising the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic 
rifles, a move the NRA opposes.

   On Friday, a large Wall Street money management firm said that it wanted to 
engage with major weapons manufacturers about what comes next.

   Blackrock Inc., which manages $6 trillion in assets, has become one of the 
largest stakeholders gun manufacturers like Sturm Ruger & Co., American Outdoor 
Brands Corp. and Vista Outdoor Inc. through indirect investments. The money is 
placed in index funds, so Blackrock cannot sell shares of individual companies 
within the index. Its fund clients invest in indexes that might contain 
companies like Ruger.

   On Friday, spokesman Ed Sweeney said Blackrock will be "engaging with 
weapons manufacturers and distributors to understand their response to recent 
events."

   Blackrock, through indirect investments, holds a 16.18 percent stake in 
Sturm Ruger, an 11.91 percent stake in Vista, and a 10.5 percent stake in 
American Outdoor, according to the data firm FactSet.


(KA)

 
 
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