Canadian retailer Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) is debating whether to continue selling gear made by brands that fall under the umbrella of Vista Outdoor, a parent company that also owns semi-automatic rifle maker Savage Arms.
The debate started last Friday, when MEC Co-Op members created a petition, which now has more than 40,000 signatures, asking the retailer to stop carrying any Vista Outdoor brands, including CamelBak, Bushnell, Bollé, Camp Chef, and Jimmy Styks. “Given the recent massacre of high school students in Parkland, Florida,” the petition states, “MEC is facing an urgent ethical obligation: to act in accordance with its ‘Mission and Values’ and immediately stop selling brands owned by Vista Outdoor, a corporation whose profits are derived from the production of assault weapons capable of mass murder.”
MEC responded in a statement on Twitter on Monday, saying that the company is listening to consumers from both sides of the argument and “evaluating different courses of action.”
Two days later, the retailer is still deliberating. “Save for Camp Chef, MEC’s relationship with the brands predates Vista Outdoor’s ownership of them,” a spokesperson told Outside this morning. “MEC prides itself on being a thoughtful organization that looks at the whole system based on the facts and information at hand. Whatever decisions we make will have wider implications for the brands we carry, our sourcing practices, financial health, and ability to meet our members’ needs.”
In the United States, similar pressures are mounting against REI, which, like MEC, carries products by several Vista Outdoor brands—CamelBak, Giro, Bell, and Bollé. As of this morning, 7,167 people have signed a petition asking REI to stop selling Vista Outdoor brands. The petition was started late last week by Jesse Ladner. “As an REI Co-Op member,” Ladner writes on her petition site, “I’m asking my favorite outdoor retailer to take a firm stand and stop profiting from companies that promote and manufacture assault weapons.”
Another petition by Aaron Naparstek, a journalist, urban-planning specialist, and MIT visiting scholar, has 625 signatures. For Naparstek, the issue goes beyond gun sales: Specifically, Vista Outdoor has a history of supporting anti–public land politicians. Indeed, Vista Outdoor has a PAC that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit dedicated to tracking money in U.S. politics, has donated thousands of dollars to the campaigns of congressmen who have historically opposed public land protection. Over the past two election cycles, the Vista Outdoor PAC donated a combined total of more than $ 31,000 to Utah representatives Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart, both of whom have supported legislation that threatened the creation and continued protection of federal public lands.
Other notable donations include $ 2,000 to then-Montana Representative Ryan Zinke in 2016 and $ 14,400 to Utah Senator Mike Lee over the past two election cycles. In 2016, Lee (along with fellow Utah Senator Orrin Hatch) introduced legislation that would have required an act of Congress to expand or designate new national monuments in Utah. Lee has also proven to be an anti–gun control advocate. Two days ago, Lee told Fox News, “How will the banning of [AR-15-style rifles] make us safer?…I don’t believe most Utahns would think that was necessarily the answer.”
“REI CEO Jerry Stritzke says he’s ‘mad as hell and disappointed’ about the decision to rescind protection for Bears Ears,” Naparstek tweeted on Monday. “He joined 170 Outdoor Industry Association CEOs in ‘declaring protecting public lands as our top priority.’ And yet, REI is selling products and brands owned by Vista Outdoor, a company that not only supports the NRA but is using its [PAC] to fund the congressmen who are leading the assault on protecting public lands. How do REI’s 6,000,000+ members feel about that?”
For many independent retailers, it’s already clear what REI should do. “If REI is taking a stand on the public lands issue but then also doing business with brands that act on the opposite side of that issue…that’s a total hypocritical stance,” says Brett Rivers, owner of the San Francisco Running Company.
REI did not respond to Outside’s request for comment before this story was published, nor has the retail giant issued any public response to the growing frustration among some of its customers. In the meantime, small retailers around the country are already reconsidering their supply chains. Several have halted sales of Vista brands altogether, including Boulder Cycle Sports, Washington D.C.’s BicycleSPACE, and several in Portland, Oregon, including Sellwood Cycle, Gladys Bikes, Clever Cycles, and Cylepath.
“This incident has been a catalyst to examine our partnerships,” reads a post on the Boulder Cycle Sports website. “As a small business, we can foster change with our decision to focus on vendor partners that most closely align with our mission.”