Why it won’t matter if Dick’s Sporting Goods stops selling assault guns

7:10 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 Local
A sign hangs outside of a Dick’s Sporting Goods store Wednesday in Chicago. Citing the recent shooting at Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, the sporting goods retailer announced today that it would no longer sell firearms to anyone under 21 years of age, no longer sell high capacity magazines, and would no longer sell assault-style rifles at any company-owned stored. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Dick’s Sporting Goods won a flurry of media attention when it announced Wednesday that it has stopped selling assault rifles.

But skeptics say the move by one of the nation’s largest sporting goods retailers does little to dent the availability of military-style weapons like the one used in the Feb. 14 school shootings in Parkland.

That’s because the new policy affects only a tiny fraction of the retailer’s locations. The company stopped selling the weapons at its Dick’s stores in 2012 and only sells them at its much less numerous Field & Stream stores.

What’s more, AR-15s, AK-47s and other military-style rifles remain available at other gun retailers, at gun shows and in private sales.

At Gun and Range in West Palm Beach, owner Alex Shkop said he’ll continue to carry assault rifles, although he said sales of the weapons are tiny compared to sales of handguns.

“It’s such a small part of the business,” Shkop said. “As a business owner, I could care less.”

Pittsburgh-based Dick’s said it would stop selling what it called “assault-style rifles” in its 36 Field & Stream stores. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Dick’s removed the weapons from its 676 Dick’s Sporting Goods stores.

“We deeply believe that this country’s most precious gift is our children,” the company said on Twitter. “They are our future. We must keep them safe.”

Dick’s, which has three Palm Beach County stores, also said it would stop selling firearms to buyers under 21. And the retailer vowed to stop carrying high-capacity magazines.

Later Wednesday, Walmart, which banned the sale of assault-style rifles in 2015, said it would stop selling firearms to buyers under 21 as well. Walmart also announced it would remove items from its website “resembling assault-style rifles, including nonlethal airsoft guns and toys.” They already had banned high-capacity magazines.

Dick’s still sells rifles. On Wednesday afternoon, the gun department at its Boynton Beach store displayed a variety of 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotguns made by Remington, Mossberg and other manufacturers.

Those weapons don’t offer the same range or capacity as assault rifles such as the AR-15 used by Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Dick’s Sporting Goods said the new policy was a direct response to the Parkland shootings. The retailer told The New York Times that Cruz bought a gun from the company in November, but it wasn’t the weapon, or even the same type of weapon, used in the shooting.

Aside from it’s Boynton Beach store, Dick’s has stores near Royal Palm Beach, west of Boca Raton and 33 more throughout Florida. It has no Field & Stream locations in Florida.

In Palm Beach County alone, however, gun buyers had a choice of 137 gun dealers as of November 2017, a review of federal licenses revealed. The county had 43 gun makers, nine gun importers and two ammunition makers, the records show.

Among areas with the most gun dealers were sections of Royal Palm Beach and Jupiter.

“You can still buy an assault weapon just about anywhere,” said Jim Weix, a gun owner who lives in Stuart.

The Parkland shootings renewed a longstanding debate about how the United States should regulate military-grade rifles. Reports of a madman killing high school students led some to rethink their position regarding the weapons.

For instance, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, said the Parkland massacre convinced him that civilians shouldn’t have what he called “tactical weapons.”

“The AR-15 is an excellent platform for recreational shooters to learn to be outstanding marksmen,” Mast wrote in a piece for The New York Times. “Unfortunately, it is also an excellent platform for those who wish to kill the innocent.”

The debate over assault rifles dates to 1989, when a shooter used one of the weapons to kill five people at a school in Modesto, Calif. Since then, assault rifle crackdowns have come and gone, even as the number of mass shootings accelerates.

At Gun and Range, Shkop called Dick’s move “a political stunt,” one unlikely to stop the killings.

“An assault rifle is a semiautomatic. So is any other gun,” Shkop said.

Even if military-style rifles were banned, he said, mass killings would continue.

The vast majority of Dick’s business is selling sporting goods like basketballs and sneakers. Joseph Feldman, a senior managing director at the Telsey Advisory Group, estimated that guns and ammunition account for 8 percent of the company’s sales.

Dick’s, which had net sales of $7.92 billion in the fiscal year that ended in January 2017, has a much bigger stake in youth sports.

“The longer-term positive perception that they create a more welcoming environment will offset any lost sales in the year,” Feldman said. He said other retailers that devote a small percentage of their business to hunting will probably follow suit.

Dick’s, for its part, straddling the fine line between gun rights and the newly invigorated gun-control movement, said in a statement it continues to support the Second Amendment.

“We recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens,” the company said. “But we have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America — our kids.”