Business/Economy

REI to stop selling products of major outdoor company with NRA ties

  • Author: Meagan Flynn, The Washington Post
  • Updated: March 2
  • Published March 2

The REI store in Midtown Anchorage, 2016. (Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News)

CamelBak water bottles, Bell bicycle helmets, Giro ski goggles – what these products have in common is that they're owned by Vista Outdoor, which includes gun and ammo makers among its brands as well as a strong National Rifle Association connection.

And that's part of the reason REI, a nationwide outdoor retailer and consumer co-op, announced Thursday evening that it would, for the time being, no longer be ordering CamelBak, Bell, Giro or any other of the 50 Vista Outdoor brands to sell in its stores.

REI's announcement came just hours after thousands of REI's members signed an online petition urging REI to cut ties with Vista Outdoor over Vista's support for the NRA and its gun-manufacturing business. The company joins a widening range of others that have in some way taken a stand against assault-style weapons and the NRA by discontinuing sales, making it harder to buy weapons or, as in this case, cutting ties in the wake of the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead.

Within the past week, Dick's Sporting Goods has discontinued the sale of assault-style weapons altogether, banned the sale of high-capacity magazines and banned the sale of other guns to anyone under 21. Kroger, Walmart and L.L. Bean also all raised the age to 21 for gun sales.

In fact, REI was at least the second company on Thursday to announce its split from Vista Outdoor products. The other was Mountain Equipment Co-Op, a Canadian outdoors equipment retailer similar to REI that said it had received an overwhelming number of requests from its members to stop helping a gun-manufacturer profit by selling its outdoor products.

REI said in a statement that it was Vista Outdoor's silence that led it to cease selling Vista's non-gun products indefinitely.

"REI does not sell guns. We believe that it is the job of companies that manufacture and sell guns and ammunition to work towards common sense solutions that prevent the type of violence that happened in Florida last month," REI's statement said. "In the last few days, we've seen such action from companies like Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart and we applaud their leadership. . . . 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."

Vista Outdoor's business is divided into two branches: One side is dedicated to outdoor products; the other branch is dedicated to "shooting sports," which generates 54 percent of the company's external sales revenue, according to its annual report. Its firearms brands include Savage Arms, which makes "modern sporting rifles" and lists a semiautomatic series of weapons on its website, and Federal Premium Ammunition, which sponsors NRATV. Vista Outdoor also is a large vendor at the NRA's annual gun show.

In its 2017 annual report to investors, the company expressed concern about the possibility that Congress or state lawmakers could succeed in passing gun-control measures, affecting Vista's revenue.

If enacted, such legislation could effectively ban or severely limit the sale of affected firearms or ammunition. In addition, if such restrictions are enacted and are incongruent, we could find it difficult, expensive or even practically impossible to comply with them, which could impede new product development and the distribution of existing products. We cannot assure you that the regulation of our business activities will not become more restrictive in the future and that any such restriction will not have a material adverse effect on our business.

More than 16,000 people signed the petition asking REI to stop doing business with Vista, and many of them left comments for REI.

"Please drop Vista Brands because you are supporting the gun lobby by selling their products," one woman from California wrote. "There is no other purpose for guns except to kill. How many more innocent lives will be tragically lost before this stops?"

Another from Texas said: "I am a PROUD REI member and enough is ENOUGH! REI does not need to associate with companies that are keeping gun manufacturers afloat."

Mountain Equipment Co-Op said it heard from about 5,500 members giving a diverse range of opinions on what the company should do with Vista-owned brands sold in its store, including Bolle, Bushnell, CamelBak, Camp Chef and Jimmy Styks. CEO David Labistour announced the decision in a lengthy open letter, revealing that after much consideration the company decided to suspend all further orders of the products.

"On a very personal note, many of us come from parts of the world where we have witnessed the use and impact of guns first-hand. I include myself in that community," Labistour wrote. "I have proudly served in the military and grew up in a rural area where hunting was commonplace. I can readily identify with our members who are on all sides of this debate. At the same time, my personal experience has taught me about the power of engagement. I believe that engagement is the path to change, as tough as it might be."

CamelBak pushed back on the boycott that has ended up targeting its hydration products, saying that since CamelBak fell under the outdoors-product branch of Vista Outdoor, consumers shouldn't be concerned that they are supporting the gun industry.

"A major concern for the boycott centers around the incorrect assumption that the purchase of any of our products may support a cause that does not fit the mission/values of our brand," the company said in a statement. "That is not the case. Our brand falls within the Outdoor Products segment of our company, which operates separately from Vista Outdoor's Shooting Sports segment. Since 1989, CamelBak has been committed to forever changing the way people hydrate and perform. Our passion and love for the outdoors is unchanged."

A spokesperson for Vista Outdoor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.