VANCOUVER — By stopping the sale of brands tied to gun manufacturing, the chief executive of Mountain Equipment Co-op says the company can play a role in advancing discussions around gun control.
David Labistour announced Thursday that MEC will stop selling several outdoor equipment brands owned by Vista Outdoor Inc., which is also a gun manufacturer.
MEC doesn't sell guns, but has faced a petition calling on it to stop selling brands owned by Vista Outdoor because the U.S. company also develops and manufactures firearms similar to the type of weapon used in a recent mass shooting in Florida.
The retailer said its existing inventory of Bushnell, CamelBak, Camp Chef, Jimmy Styks and Bolle gear will remain on its shelves until it is sold, but it has suspended further orders of the brands owned by Vista Outdoor.
Labistour said in a telephone interview Thursday that he listened to a spectrum of opinions, ranging from boycotting the brand to leaving the decision to individual consumers.
"This one has been a very emotional issue with a lot of different opinions. It wasn't clear cut," Labistour said. "The thing we have to be careful about is we need to try and find the opinion of the middle as opposed to listening to the loud voices on the outside and that requires very careful scrutiny and listening with the facts at hand."
MEC bills itself as Canada's go-to place for outdoor gear, owned by those who shop there. The price for a lifetime membership is $5 and hasn't changed since 1971.
The company has always considered members' concerns with the brands and products it carries, Labistour said, but unlike previous disputes, the culture of social media has created an expectation that companies should reach an immediate decision.
"The reality is to gather all the facts and to reach a considered decision it takes more than the speed of a tweet," he said. "You need to have the courage to take the time to make the right decision."
It became clear that the company's members weren't taking aim at the issue of hunting or sport shooting but wanted to see more discussion around gun control, he said.
While he doesn't believe MEC has any control over that debate, the organization can help advance the public conversation around the Feb. 14 shooting that resulted in 17 deaths at a high school in Parkland, Fla., he said.
This isn't the first instance that members have influenced MEC to drop a brand, Labistour said, and the organization has rigorous policies for investigating supply chains with a focus on ethical sourcing and the environmental footprint of the brands it carries.
Many of the brands mentioned in the recent petition were partners of MEC before being acquired by Vista Outdoor, he said.
"I know these brands' values, within those brands themselves, are more closely aligned to our values," he said, adding MEC will continue to engage with the companies.
The outdoor industry has seen a lot of merger and acquisition activity in recent years and MEC has not looked at what the implications have been, Labistour said. MEC is developing a process to review corporate ownership and its ethical sourcing practices, he added.
The Canadian retailer Running Room also announced Thursday it would stop ordering products from CamelBak, one of Vista Outdoor's brands.
Its founder John Stanton said in a telephone interview that Running Room began selling CamelBak products more than a decade ago, before it was acquired by Vista Outdoor.
Many brands have direct or indirect affiliations with products that could trigger a public backlash, and Stanton said researching those connections and determining how to react is challenging.
Deciding to drop CamelBak for another brand was a difficult decision but the company determined the connection to assault-style weapons went against its values of promoting healthy, safe and inclusive communities, he said.
"When the consumers speak with their wallet, people listen," he said.
On Wednesday, Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods in the United States took steps to restrict gun sales.
Dick's said it will stop selling assault-style rifles and ban the sale of all guns to anyone under 21.
Walmart said it will no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21.
A 19-year-old former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is accused of using an AR-15 rifle, that he purchased legally, for the attack.
Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press