Dick's Sporting Goods suspends some gun sales due to school shooting

| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 10:50 a.m.

Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. pulled some firearms from hundreds of stores nationwide on Tuesday in response to last week's school shooting in Connecticut, but no other major gun retailers said they would follow suit.

The Findlay-based chain said it suspended sales of what it called “modern sporting rifles” from its more than 500 locations in 44 states out of respect for the victims and their families in the school massacre. Dick's also announced it removed all guns from sales areas at its store closest to Newtown, Conn.

Dick's officials provided few details on which weapons it was pulling as politicians and pundits continued to discuss whether the slayings should spur changes in gun laws.

Dick's officials would not say how long the firearms would remain unavailable. Authorities say many of the 27 victims of gunman Adam Lanza, who later shot and killed himself, were shot with a .223-caliber Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle.

“We are extremely saddened by the unspeakable tragedy,” Dick's officials said in a prepared statement, “... Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and to the entire community.”

Wal-Mart removed from its website an information page about the Bushmaster rifle, citing “recent tragic events.” But the Arkansas-based company, the nation's largest retailer, does not sell guns online and made no changes to its in-store firearms merchandise, spokesman Kory Lundberg said.

Officials with other major firearms retailers in Western Pennsylvania, including Cabela's, Dunham's Sports, Gander Mountain and Ace Sporting Goods, did not return calls or emails seeking comment on their plans.

Private equity group Cerberus Capital Management announced it would sell Freedom Group, the gun company that makes Bushmaster models. The father of Cerberus founder Stephen Feinberg lives about six miles from the massacre site.

At Sportsman's Supply Inc. in Butler, President Grant Williams said firearms do not appear to be a primary revenue source for Dick's. Suspending some gun sales probably made sense for that company, he said.

But nearly all customers at Sportsman's Supply are shooters, Williams said. He said the business has no plans to change its inventory, which lists some semi-automatic weapons.

Williams said the Newtown massacre “was committed not by a firearm but by a mentally disturbed person who merely chose the firearm as a means to carry out what he was going to do, anyway.”

“We feel horrified by what happened, but we do not place blame with the weapon,” he said.

At Fazi Firearms in Plum, owner Bill Fazi said he sells and knows people who shoot competitively with military-style rifles. The high-powered firearms, the target of a 10-year federal ban that expired in 2004, could be banned anew under legislation promised by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, that the White House said President Obama would support.

Fazi is “highly sensitive” to deaths from misused guns, he said. But he added that “we don't intend to buckle under to whatever's going on with the media.”

“We will sell all legally obtained weapons until otherwise mandated. No question about that,” Fazi said.

The National Association of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers and the Professional Gun Retailers Association take no position on whether stores should change their inventory, said Andrew Molchan, director of both organizations. He said the Florida-based associations have a couple thousand members.

Dick's might have removed select rifles primarily as a public-relations effort, he said.

“Not to be cynical, but it's not like they're making this horrendous sacrifice,” Molchan said. He supports arming teachers “if you want protection in the schools.”

Fazi said he found irony in some reactions to the Newtown massacre.

“When these things happen, people become heightened in their concern and end up purchasing weapons directly as a result of the media, which I think is counterproductive and foolish,” he said. “If you want to buy a gun, make your own decision. Don't let the TV tell you what to do.”

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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