DICK'S Sporting Goods' Ed Stack on Why He Stopped Selling Assault Rifles and Whether CEOs Should Avoid Controversy

A customer gun shopping at Dick's Sporting Goods in 2012. Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty

Ed Stack, the owner of America's largest sporting goods chain, discusses the history of DICK'S Sporting Goods and his views of corporate responsibility in his new book, It's How We Play the Game.

In this Q&A, Stack discusses the importance of youth sports; his views on the Second Amendment and how he came to the decision to limit firearms sales at his stores; and his own personal shopping habits.

Q: What community issues are you passionate about?

A: I wrote It's How We Play The Game to highlight two issues. The first is youth sports. National funding for youth sports has been cut dramatically; today 24% of public schools do not offer school sports programs. Sports play a vital role in teaching our children fundamental values and are a place where kids find their confidence, build friendships, gain mentors and feel like they belong. We started an organization called Sports Matter to inspire and enable youth participation in sports. The second is our journey around gun policy. DICK'S' has a history with guns that dates back to our early days. The evolution of that story and how we made gun policy decisions that removed guns from our shelves and advocated for change are important, too.

DICK's Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack. Roy Rochlin/Getty

Q: You took all guns and ammunition off the shelves of DICK'S temporarily after the 9/11 attacks; and in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, you suspended selling assault-style weapons. After the 2018 Parkland, Florida, shooting you completely removed assault-style weapons from all stores permanently. What made this different? How has your thinking evolved?

A: The terrible tragedy at Parkland had a profound impact on those students, their families, our nation and me personally. It led us to make the decision to remove assault-style rifles from our Field & Stream stores (they had already been removed from our DICK'S stores), and to stop selling high-capacity magazines and firearms to people under the age of 21. We were inspired to make those decisions by the brave survivors of Parkland.

Q: Initially, you took a big financial hit by taking assault rifles off your shelves. You even destroyed $5 million worth of inventory rather than return the stock to your suppliers. Did you consult with your board before doing this? What was their reaction?

A: We have an active board that's very hands-on and involved in the business. As we often do when we have an urgent matter to discuss, we set up a telephonic board meeting to discuss the changes we wanted to make after Parkland. The board supported us, though not without questions about the effects of our plan on sales and earnings. Satisfied with our answers, they gave us the go ahead.More than a year later, if somebody said, "you can have a do-over here," we'd do it exactly the same way and not even think twice.

Q: You own guns yourself but are outspoken on the need for stricter gun laws. What do you propose?

A: Let me start by saying that I support the Second Amendment, and as I've said, there are areas where we—as a country—can and should do better. In 2018, we implored our elected officials to enact common-sense gun reform and regulations, including renewing the assault-style firearms ban, raising the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21, closing background check loopholes and instituting background checks for all gun sales.A bill that addressed background checks passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year. It's sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk, and I hope he cares enough about what a majority of the American people want to bring it to vote on the floor of the Senate.

Q: Do you have any advice for other CEOs dealing with controversial issues?

A: Don't shy away from controversy, especially if you have an expertise. We felt that we, as a major firearms dealer, recognized that the country's gun laws had too many inconsistencies, and we should stand up and say so. Other businesses need to make their own decisions as to what is best for their shareholders, employees, customers and communities.

Q: Besides DICK'S, where do you shop?

A: I regularly visit a lot of different stores to see what they're doing and what we can learn from them. Some of the stores I enjoy visiting are Apple, Nordstrom, and Wegmans grocery store in upstate New York where I worked when in college. Smaller outfits often pop up to meet a consumer demand that's not being met by the big guy in the market. I've found that too many companies fail to take the competition seriously—right up to the moment where the little guy grows big enough to do them serious harm.