October 30, 2018 / 3:24 PM / 16 days ago

Breakingviews - Exclusive: FedEx drops NRA deal by snail-mail

FedEx planes on the tarmac during the presentation of the future extension of the FedEx hub in Roissy-en-France, North of Paris, France, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Mass shootings happen in an instant and grab headlines. A business and investment shift away from the firearms industry is happening more subtly. FedEx, the U.S. shipping group, is ending a program that offers discounts for business members of the National Rifle Association, the company confirmed to Breakingviews.

It’s a quiet reversal: eight months ago, FedEx stood by the gun-rights lobby group as other companies scrapped deals. They were reacting to the NRA’s stance after 17 students and staff members were murdered at a Florida high school by a former student. Companies including Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and car-rental firm Enterprise swiftly ended member discounts. At the time, FedEx said that while assault rifles of the kind used in most American mass shootings shouldn’t be in civilian hands, it did not believe in “discriminating” between organizations it works with.

The change of tack comes just days after a gunman killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The $56 billion logistics company says the closure of its NRA discount program from Nov. 4 has no connection to that incident or any other shooting. Rather, the NRA just didn’t bring in enough business to merit its own deal. It’s among dozens of organizations FedEx plans to move to new pricing programs, and the company has been notifying customers since early October.

That, though, is still significant – perhaps more so than largely political gestures. It suggests the NRA no longer has the economic clout to inspire fear in the corporate world. The group nearly put gunmaker Smith & Wesson out of business in 2000 when it branded the company a “sellout” for agreeing to back stronger gun controls. Boycotts from NRA members followed, and Smith & Wesson’s chief executive lost his job.

Gun-rights lobbyists have resisted both technology that could make firearms safer and no-brainer efforts like making more federal data on firearms incidents readily available. But companies are becoming less timid. When retailers Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger pledged to end sales of assault rifles earlier this year, their shares didn’t suffer. As customers and investors change their views, businesses no longer need to take an overtly political stance – they can just follow the money.

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