REI announced late today that is suspending future purchases of brands owned by Vista Outdoor, which manufactures guns and ammunition, including semi-automatic weapons through its Savage Arms brand. Vista owns Bell, Blackburn, Bollé, Bushnell, CamelBak, Camp Chef, Giro, and Jimmy Styks, among others. This morning, Canadian retail chain MEC CEO David Labistour said in a statement that effective immediately, MEC will cease ordering any Vista Outdoor products. It will continue to sell inventory in stock until it’s sold out.

Both the chains have been facing intense pressure from customers to respond in the wake of the shooting in Florida on February 14.

“Two weeks ago, 17 people lost their lives in a senseless and tragic school shooting in the U.S. The issue of gun violence and questions surrounding responsible gun use, ownership and manufacturing have made headlines around the world,” MEC CEO David Labistour said. “While these issues are seemingly unrelated to MEC, it has recently come to light that several brands MEC sells are owned by a corporation that has holdings in the manufacture of assault-style weapons.”

“Demonstrating leadership and leveraging the power of community are among MEC’s core values. With this in mind, we have taken time to listen to our members’ views, consult internally and reach out to others in our industry. From what we’ve heard, we know that no decision we make will satisfy everyone. We are in the midst of a complex and highly charged debate with as many opinions as there are people expressing them.”

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In a statement, REI said, “This week, we have been in active discussions with Vista Outdoor, which has recently acquired several companies that are longtime partners of REI…This morning we learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action. As a result, we have decided to place a hold on future orders of products that Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds.”

Bell, Blackburn, CamelBak, and Giro are all part of $2.5 billion Vista, and customers of REI and Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), which many think of as the Canadian REI, have been urging them to stop carrying the brands. Vista paid $412.5 million for CamelBak in 2015 and $400 million for Bell, Blackburn, and Giro in 2016. It also owns Bushnell, which makes binoculars, telescopes, and GPS devices, and Bollé, Camp Chef, Cébé, Serengeti Eyewear, and Tasco telescopes.

Neither of the brands have addressed products made by Black Diamond, which is owned by Clarus Corp., which owns Sierra Bullets.

Earlier this week, MEC said in a Twitter post, “All day we’ve been listening to our members through email, telephone, social media, and in our stores. “We have over five million outdoor-loving members and thousands of you have reached out to us today. We’re hearing lots of diverse opinions on this topic.

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“Many of you have told us you want us to immediately stop carrying products from any brands owned by Vista Outdoor, because of their support for the NRA and ownership of other brands that manufacture automatic weapons and ammunition. We’ve also heard from many of you who disagree: members who still want to be able to buy brands like CamelBak at MEC, and who think purchasing decisions should be up to individual consumers.”

The uproar stems from the killing of 17 adults and children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, by a man using an assault rifle and the #boycottNRA response that has blown up on social media. The debate over limits on guns, high capacity clips, and bumps stocks has more volume and moment than in the wake of other mass killings. Yesterday, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that it will no longer sell assault-style weapons or high-capacity magazines, and it also raised the minimum age to purchase guns to 21. Walmart, the country’s largest seller of weapons, quickly followed suit and added that it will stop selling toys and air guns that resemble assault rifles. Today, the grocery chain Kroger said it is raising to 21 the minimum age to buy guns at its Fred Meyer stores.

Last week, the movement to boycott brands themselves was sparked in part by cycling blogger and advocate Aaron Naparstek, who tweeted, “The same company that manufactures your CoPilot rear-rack child bicycle safety seat also produces the SavageArms MSR 15 Patrol assault rife.” Since then, Naparstek has continued to pressure companies to sever their relationship with Vista Brands, including by creating a petition urging REI CEO Jerry Stritzke to drop Vista brands

“REI is selling products and brands owned by Vista Outdoor, a company that not only supports the NRA but is using its SuperPAC to fund the campaigns of the Congressmen leading the assault on protected public lands. So, with one hand, REI is fighting the privatization and exploitation of public lands. With the other hand, REI is selling Vista Outdoor products that help fund the campaigns of the Congressmen leading the effort to hand over America’s public park lands and national monuments to mining, drilling, grazing and other corporate interests. 

“This is clearly unacceptable and must stop.”

At the time of writing, Naparsek’s petition had a little over 1,000 signatures. Another petition calling for REI to stop selling Vista Brands had more than 12,000 names. A petition on change.org urging MEC to drop the brands has collected 50,000 signers.

Individual retailers that carry Vista companies and want to drop them are caught in bind, stocking valuable inventory and having to find another helmet or accessories supplier. The owner of Gladys Bikes in Portland, Oregon, Leah Benson, wrote on the shop’s Facebook page, ““This is frustrating and disappointing on a whole multitude of levels. Of Vista’s many brands, we currently only stock Giro helmets, and we had just placed a fairly sizable (for us) order with them. I’m not going to lie: This puts us in a tricky place financially. That said, there are a lot of things that are more important than money (for instance: human life); we’re committed to finding a way to not support them moving forward.”

A short time later, Benson emailed Bike Portland, saying she was dropping the companies from Gladys. ““We will no longer purchase products from companies owned by Vista Outdoors. Additionally, we will be donating proceeds from the remaining inventory we have of Giro helmets to Everytown for Gun Safety… I know that some folks will disagree with my opinions or tactics here, and I respect that, and won’t deny that this is a relatively easy decision for me to make since Gladys is small and our pre-season investment in these brands was not nearly as large as other shops in the area. I respect that every shop has good reason for the choices they’re making with regards to Vista; we all have different ways of existing in business and in the world.”

Vista Outdoor also contributes to politicians through its political action committee, with the largest amounts going to Utah representatives who are among the most antagonistic toward federal public lands. In 2016, the Vista PAC gave $103,925 to members of Congress, with Utah’s Rep. Rob Bishop receiving $5,000 and Rep. Chris Stewart receiving $6,000. On the Senate side, Vista gave $9,000 to Idaho’s Mike Crapo, who has a lifetime score of 6 percent from the League of Conservation Voters (low = anti-conservation), and Utah’s Mike Lee, who has an 8 percent score. It gave $4,200 to Oklahoma’s James Inofe, perhaps the leading climate change denier in Congress.


RESOURCES

MEC statement

Brands owned by Vista Outdoors

Vista Outdoors financial profile

Vista Outdoor political contributions, 2016

Vista Outdoor political contributions, 2018

Leave of Conservation Votes scorecard for all members of Congress.


Photo by Simon Law