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    A chink in the NRA armor? Boycott against gun lobby’s business partners claims wins

    NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 22: The booth of National Rifle Association (NRA) is seen during CPAC 2018 February 22, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland. The American Conservative Union hosted its annual Conservative Political Action Conference to discuss conservative agenda. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    Alex Wong/Getty Images
    The National Rifle Association had a booth during CPAC 2018 on Thursday in Maryland.

    The National Rifle Association has long been invulnerable in the political world, but advocates for tighter gun laws may have discovered the gun lobby’s weak spot in the business world.

    A barrage of boycott threats on social media in the wake of the Florida high school shooting has prompted a number of companies, including prominent American brands in insurance and car rentals, to drop business deals with the powerful gun rights group. Among them is Boston home security startup SimpliSafe, which announced Friday that it would end a discount program for NRA members.

    Though the victories are unlikely to hurt the NRA’s bottom line or its support among members, some see them as a sign of strength for a gun-control movement that has coalesced around the deaths of 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Fla.


    “It’s possible that this is a new moment in the gun violence struggle, and that the corporations will respond because they sense that we’re in a new era of activism and emotional energy around these issues,” said Charles Derber, a sociology professor at Boston College.

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    SimpliSafe, which had offered two months of free professional monitoring to customers with NRA memberships, was among a number of companies targeted this week in a social media campaign with the hashtag #BoycottNRA.

    In a statement, a SimpliSafe spokeswoman said the company has “discontinued our existing relationship with the NRA.” The company did not immediately offer details about how and when it made the decision.

    Several other companies made similar calls amid the latest national reckoning over how to decrease gun violence, following the mass shooting allegedly carried out by Nikolas Cruz, 19, in Florida.

    Symantec, maker of the popular Norton computer virus-protection program, and insurers MetLife and Chubb also said they would end discount programs for NRA members. Enterprise Holdings, which owns Enterprise, National, and Alamo car rentals, and Hertz each said they would do the same, and First National Bank of Omaha is scrapping an NRA-branded credit card. Others have followed.


    Though such deals are only a small part of the NRA’s operation, experts said the quick results from the campaign show the potential for gun-control advocates to use the energy of younger consumers to influence major American companies on gun issues. For example, the decisions by companies to pull advertising helped contribute to the ouster of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly amid sexual harassment allegations, and calls to boycott events in North Carolina led to the repeal of the so-called bathroom bill affecting transgender people.

    Koen Pauwels, a marketing professor at Northeastern University who studies online consumer behavior, said the key will be if advocates can sustain the energy as they take on more difficult targets.

    “They shouldn’t rest on their laurels and say, ‘Hey, we made sure the NRA lost a little bit of money,’ ” he said. “That’s not going to make any huge change.”

    And Bob Spitzer, a political scientist at the State University of New York who follows gun politics, suggested the corporate backlash is not yet big enough to sway the country’s wider gun debate.

    ‘‘If this is as far as it goes, it probably won’t have any measurable effect. If other companies continue to [cut ties], it can start to have an adverse public relations effect,’’ Spitzer said. ‘‘Usually what happens is that the storm passes, and the NRA counts on that.”


    The NRA did not return requests for comment. At a conservative political event Thursday, NRA boss Wayne LaPierre issued an unapologetic defense of his organization’s positions and accused critics of a “shameful politicization of tragedy.”

    But even NRA loyalists such as President Trump and Florida Governor Rick Scott have split with the group on some gun-control issues, such as banning bump stocks and raising the minimum age to buy a weapon.

    SimpliSafe, which sells systems that users can install themselves, has about 2 million customers. The company was founded in 2008 by Chad and Eleanor Laurans . Eleanor Laurans is now chief financial officer of Boston Public Schools, while Chad Laurans remains SimpliSafe’s chief executive.

    The company uses discount programs with many organizations to market to large groups of consumers, including AAA Northeast. The company had originally resisted calls to sever ties with the NRA, telling some customers who contacted it, “We believe that all people deserve the peace of mind that home security offers, regardless of their affiliation.”

    Meanwhile the Massachusetts company that made the assault rifle allegedly used by Cruz in the Parkland massacre, American Outdoor Brands Corp., should expect a call from a prominent Wall Street firm about gun issues. Blackrock Inc., which manages $6 trillion in assets and is one of the largest stakeholders in gun makers through index funds, will be ‘‘engaging with weapons manufacturers and distributors to understand their response to recent events,’’ said spokesman Ed Sweeney.

    Material from Globe wire services was used in this report. Andy Rosen can be reached at