Will gun sellers heed fervent call from Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO?

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Updated Feb 28, 2018 11:23 PM EST

While Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) drew praise on social media for saying it is ending sales of assault-style rifles, it remains to be seen if other gun sellers will follow suit.

That isn’t a foregone conclusion judging from the reaction of one firearms vendor, who speculated that Dick’s was acting more out of its financial interests than a desire to curb gun violence.

“They probably should get out of the gun business altogether,” said Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns, a Charlotte, North Carolina, business that bills itself as “America’s largest gun shop.”

“When AR-15s were selling, they didn’t mind taking a profit. Then sales fell off,” he added, noting that renewed national debate over gun control had boosted sales of firearms at his business, including AR-15 models of the kind used to kill 17 students at a Parkland, Florida. high school. “Corporations are not a person. When decisions are made, if it looks like it’s coming from the heart, it’s really coming from the business.”

Walmart (WMT), the nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition, announced late Wednesday that it would no longer sell guns or ammo to anyone under the age of 21.

Hunting and fishing retailer Bass Pro Shops, which completed its purchase of Cabela’s in September, did not return requests for comment.

In some ways, Dick’s move to stop selling assault-style rifles is largely symbolic given that the company had already pulled the weapon from all but 35 of its 715 Dick’s stores nationwide after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. But Dick’s CEO Edward Stack gave the latest decision more force by explicitly urging lawmakers to change U.S. gun policy.

“We hope others join us in this effort to let our kids know that their pleas are being taken seriously,” he wrote in a letter published on the retailer’s website. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Stack added in explaining the policy change, which includes a decision to no longer sell firearms to anyone younger than 21 and to no longer sell high-capacity magazines.

Wall Street had a positive reaction to Dick’s move, with shares of the retailer up nearly 2 percent in afternoon trading. Halting sales of AR-15 and similar semiautomatic rifles is likely to have only a modest financial impact on the company, Wedbush Securities analyst Christopher Svezia said in a client note. He estimates Dick’s hunting segment, which includes assault-stle weapons, makes up 10 percent or less of the retailer’s annual sales,

In a November earnings calls, Dick’s CFO Lee Belitsky said that company’s hunting business had shrunk by double-digits, citing weak demand and excess inventory. 

A recent report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the fewer Americans are hunting. Between 2011 and 2016, total expenditures by hunters fell 29 percent, from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion, according to the federal agency.

While Hyatt’s specialty gun business has no plans to follow in Dick’s footsteps, the business owner said he is open to raising the age to buy firearms to 21 in most cases. He also voiced support for strengthening background checks. But he cautioned against overreacting to a tragedy.

“Once you lose these freedoms they are very difficult to get back,” Hyatt said.

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