He is a former U.S. Army captain who can clean a gun blindfolded. But last month, Levi Strauss Chief Executive Chip Bergh asked customers not to bring guns in the stores after a customer carrying a handgun shot himself in a Commerce, Georgia store.
“You don’t need a gun to try on a pair of jeans and it’s really out of respect for the safety of our employees and consumers shopping in our stores,” said Bergh adding that store workers have raised concerns.
Levi Strauss joins Panera Bread, Sonic, Chili’s, Chipotle, Starbucks, Jack in the Box, Target, Whole Foods, Peet’s, Ikea, Disneyland, California Pizza Kitchen, Buffalo Wild Wings, Toys R US and the AMC and Cinemark theaters in recognizing that most customers do not want to dine or shop next to gun carriers.
Almost five years ago, NGVAC, working with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and Fellowship of Reconciliation, declared a Valentine’s Day boycott of Starbucks because of its refusal to ban guns or even post a sign telling customers they were entering an armed zone. In response to our boycott, menacing groups of gun carriers staged derisive “Gun Appreciation Days”–even in Newtown after the Sandy Hook massacre–which moved Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to request that “customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas” in 2013 because carriers were “increasingly uncivil” and “even threatening.”
Like Levis, Starbucks has experienced gun accidents. In 2011, at a Cheyenne, Wyoming store, a carrier dropped her purse, discharging a gun and the bullet missed a customer by 12 inches. Less than two years later, at a St. Petersburg, Florida Starbucks, another woman dropped a purse with a gun. Early this year, there was a shooting in an Aurora, Colorado Starbucks.
Like Starbucks (whom Bergh says he consulted) and other no-gun chains, Levis will also likely see no dip in business. Why? Because gun advocates have a loud bark but little financial power as consumers. An NRA boycott of ConocoPhillips over its gun policies was an embarrassing flop a few years ago. Conversely, a boycott by gun safety oriented customers of H&R Block because of a partnership with the NRA was swiftly successful.
Corporations, when they take a stand, can effect social change more quickly than lawmakers. Within weeks of Microsoft’s pro-marriage equality stand, hundreds of other companies followed suit. Indiana reversed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act within days of hearing from Apple, American Airlines, the NCAA college sports league and others, threatening to pull their convention business. The NFL reversed its tolerance of players’ domestic violence charges within days of hearing from sponsors like Anheuser-Busch and the Radisson hotel chain.
Bergh and other CEOs are realizing they will lose no business in banning guns and it is in their self-interest. The top law firm Mayer Brown advises that property owners who do not put up “no guns” signs could easily face the argument that injuries were entirely “foreseeable” in court if violence occurs. Until he ran for President, Trump properties even sported “no guns” signs.
It is ironic that every major U.S. corporation already bans guns in their board rooms and headquarters. Are customers and employees less important? We applaud Levi Strauss Chief Executive Chip Bergh!