Social media plays role in stores' gun actions

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Dick's Sporting Goods is serving as a prime example this week of how social media has changed the way that consumers respond to corporate decisions.

On Wednesday, a Pittsburgh blogger launched an online effort urging gun control advocates to make purchases from the Findlay retailer that earlier this week pulled certain semi-automatic rifles from its shelves in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school killings.

The goal, said blogger Sue Kerr, is to let Dick's officials know their action was appreciated as well as to demonstrate that those who favor gun control have economic power. The Allegheny County sporting goods chain that operates more than 500 Dick's stores nationally also has been hearing from those less favorably inclined to its decision. On its Facebook page, the retailer has been pelted with angry comments from those who believe the retailer did not stand up for Second Amendment rights.

"I'm done with Dick's Sporting Goods," wrote one, while another said, "You might as well just pull your guns permanently at this point. I know I won't be shopping there going forward."

It's not entirely clear which side has the most economic power. Nationally, a surge of shoppers reportedly has rushed to pick up supplies of guns and ammunition, as concerns increase that Congress may change selling rules. Similar strong sales came around both of President Barack Obama's elections, although this is the first time the president has indicated he plans to weigh in on gun control.

There's no question that consumer-facing businesses can't hide from customer opinions in the social media era. Dick's wasn't alone in hearing from the public.

Outdoor retailer Cabela's, which also sells firearms, had comments on its Facebook page Thursday thanking it for continuing to sell semi-automatic rifles as well as posts complaining that it shouldn't have advertised such products this week.

Ms. Kerr created her Facebook event in support of Dick's on Wednesday morning and said she invited about 50 others. Other Pittsburgh activists spread word to their networks.

"We want these types of decisions to be recognized as good business, not just being a good neighbor during a tragedy and then back to business as usual," Ms. Kerr said.

Dick's has not said how long its suspension of sales of "modern" rifles will stay in effect.

Nationally, social media has been a key part of the discussion since Friday, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. A report issued Thursday found almost 30 percent of the conversation examined in the three days following the Newtown killings was about gun policy. Calls for tighter gun controls outnumbered defenses of current policies by more than 2-to-1.

By comparison, after the 2011 Arizona shootings that wounded then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, just 3 percent of the social media discussion involved gun policy, the report found.

Shares of outdoor retailer Cabela's rose $1.32 on Thursday to close at $42.32. Dick's shares closed at $45.68 on Thursday, down 19 cents.

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Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018.


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