The decision by Dick’s Sporting Goods to end all sales of assault-style rifles in the wake of the Florida school shooting was “cowardly and divisive,” the director of the Massachusetts affiliate of the National Rifle Association said Wednesday.
“They should be using their corporate communication ability to be talking about the truly hard-core problems that happened, which was a systemic failure of government at all levels,” said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts.
Wallace also lashed out at what he called a failure to address the mental health factors behind mass shootings.
“Every time we start getting divided over this thing, we totally kick down the road the conversations that really should be happening,” Wallace said. “It’s an extraordinarily difficult subject, and that is why nobody wants to touch it.”
Wallace’s comments followed the announcement that Dick’s, one of the country’s largest sports retailers, would no longer sell military-style, semiautomatic rifles at any of its stores.
The stores also will require customers to be older than 21 to buy a firearm and will stop selling high-capacity magazines, said Edward Stack, the company’s chief executive.
Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who allegedly killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., purchased a firearm from the chain in November, officials say. He allegedly used a different gun in the massacre.
“We did everything by the book. We did everything that the law required and still he was able to buy a gun,” Stack told “Good Morning America” in an interview on Wednesday. “When we looked at that, we said the systems that are in place across the board just aren’t effective enough to keep us from selling a gun like that.”
Dick’s stopped selling assault-type rifles after the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut in 2012. That decision is now permanent and will be extended to the company’s Field & Stream subsidiary.
On Wednesday, Walmart said it would no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21.
The announcements have no practical effect in Massachusetts, where former Governor Mitt Romney banned assault weapons in 2004. But Wallace and many gun-rights advocates view the decision as another incursion on their Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
Paul Ferrazzani, owner of the Medford-based Firearm Safety Academy of Massachusetts, joined Wallace in labeling Stack a “coward.”
“He’s giving in to a small bunch of people crying about something they don’t like, but it’s his loss. He’s going to lose the sales, and he might lose more business,” Ferrazzani said.
Ferrazzani said guns are needed by civilians not only for personal protection but also to safeguard the country. He repeated a claim spread by some far-right organizations that terrorists have established dozens of training camps in the country. One is located in Western Massachusetts, he said.
Ferrazzani said he owns two assault-style rifles for target practice and long-range competition, and that the Founding Fathers knowingly protected such weapons when they drafted the Bill of Rights.
“They were smart enough to know that the country was going to grow and that technology was going to grow. They didn’t say ‘flintlocks’ and ‘muzzle loaders.’ They said ‘arms,’ ” Ferrazzani said.
Gun-control advocates applauded the company’s decision and said they hoped other vendors would follow suit.
“It’s a potential game-changer and could encourage other large retailers to become part of the solution to gun violence versus continuing in lockstep with the immoral gun lobby and elected officials who take their money instead of protecting children,” said John Rosenthal, cofounder of Stop Handgun Violence.
Several other companies that had offered discounts to NRA members have rescinded the programs since the Feb. 14 shootings at the Florida school.
Mario Torchia, owner of Nick’s Sport Shop in Palmer, dismissed the company’s move as a marketing ploy but said he favors expanded national background checks.
“Most gun people are not going to have a problem with that,” Torchia said. “Somehow, changes have to be made. Normal gun people are not the people going out to shoot up schools and movie theaters.
“But until they figure out how to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people, it’s not going to stop.”
Meanwhile, business has increased at Nick’s Sport Shop since the Florida shooting.
“There’s always a spike. It never fails,” Torchia said, “Once they say ‘gun control,’ you make people nervous.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.