With each new mass shooting in the United States, people across the nation rally to demand action. While most cannot seem to agree on the right solution to prevent these killings, some private companies have moved ahead of the federal government, raising the age limits on gun sales.
Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart, two of the largest gun sellers in the country, announced last week they will raise the age limit to buy guns and ammunition from 18 to 21. On Friday, retailer L.L. Bean also said it would not sell firearms to customers under 21.
Still, some people are not convinced that age restrictions are stringent enough screeners to stop mass shootings. And others think these companies are only trying to build a positive reputation rather than make a difference in society.
In Denton, Bill Anderson, owner of the Call to Arms gun shop, said companies like Dick's and Walmart made hollow gestures last week, and he said focusing on the age of gun consumers is solving the wrong part of the mass shooting equation.
"Doing something means you'll actually get something done," Anderson said. "Changing the age will have no effect on anything. It's purely a political move."
Federal law allows 18-year-olds to purchase semi-automatic rifles, but only 21-year-olds can purchase handguns from retailers and other gun sellers.
Dick's, Walmart and L.L. Bean are among the first to act in response to a mass killing last month in Parkland, Florida, where a 19-year-old used an AR-15 to kill 17 people. The Florida gun shop that sold the rifle to the killer has been is closed indefinitely, according to media reports.
There are several reasons why a company might decide to change its policies in the wake of polarizing issues. Francisco Guzman, a branding professor at the University of North Texas, researches those factors. Traditional marketers always have categorized consumers into various segments, to efficiently learn what they need and want. That hasn't changed; only now, companies care about what consumers think about.
Increasingly, Guzman said, over the past few years, brands and consumers have grown much closer through social media interactions and an overall prioritization of social change among new generations of consumers.
"Companies understand that their consumer bases expect them to do this," the professor said. "And [brands] don't really have an option."
This can lead to real social change, or it can simply be companies trying to take advantage of a situation and attract new customers to make more money.
"Regardless of personal position," Guzman said, "these things are happening, and we need to discuss them, because this is a new reality."
Without attending company board meetings, Guzman said it's hard to determine exactly what motivates executives to act like this. But one thing remains true: the private industry has the power and influence to shape, or even lead, national discussion of these kinds of issues.
For 21-year-old Alysa Delgado, a UNT student and an employee at Recycled Books Records CDs, companies taking bold positions can provide needed balance in conversations over gun control, creating an additional layer of pressure on lawmakers, and giving power to citizens.
But there are still dangers in allowing profit-oriented companies to take the lead. A few years ago, she recalled, she went to a gun show with an old friend.
"People were buying rifles like candy bars," Delgado said.
She said while companies can be part of the solution, they can also flood society with guns and ammunition.
"I think the screening process should be more extensive the more deadly a weapon is," she said.
Anderson said he'd still be in business even if nobody ever again purchased an AR-15 from his store. That, to him, underscores how the burden to make change on this issue is in the hands of the government.
He does not want to see a time when schools have razor-wire fences around them and armed guards roaming the hallways, but "times are changing," he said, "and we have to change with those times."
FEATURED PHOTO: Bill Anderson, right, owner of Call to Arms in Denton, speaks to a customer Friday. Anderson said companies like Dick's and Walmart made hollow gestures last week in the wake of last month's deadly school shooting in Florida, and he said focusing on the age of gun consumers is solving the wrong part of the mass shooting equation. "Doing something means you'll actually get something done," Anderson said. "Changing the age will have no effect on anything. It's purely a political move." Jake King/DRC