Corporate America mostly silent on recent mass shootings: Experts

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(NEW YORK) — A mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas last week — which left 19 children and two teachers dead — has prompted outcry from figures across public life.

President Joe Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnell. R-Ky., usually political opponents, both expressed horror at the shooting and McConnell okayed negotiations with Democrats on potential legislation to address the issue.

Actor and Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey described the incident as “devastating.”

Some of the nation’s most prominent chief executives have joined the chorus, such as Amazon CEO Andy Jassy and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon.

But many CEOs at the largest U.S. companies — which wield significant influence and can often change the direction of political debate — have remained silent on the tragedy and what should be done about it.

ABC News contacted the top 20 companies on the Fortune 500 list for comment on the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde as well as on the larger issue of gun violence. Nearly all of the companies did not respond, except Microsoft and Walgreens Boots Alliance, which responded but declined comment.

Disney, the parent company of ABC News, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Some experts believe the business leaders have not directly addressed the recent shootings or potential gun violence solutions for fear of the potential backlash from employees, shareholders, business partners and customers, who may hold opposing views.

The companies and executives that have spoken out are predominantly those with a track record of having done so before or those with amenable stakeholders, the experts said.

“At the moment, most chief executives are deer in the headlights,” said James O’Rourke, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. “They see the risk of taking a position as exceeding the return.”

Speaking out in the past

A number of leading companies on the Fortune 500, including companies contacted by ABC News for this story, have spoken out or taken action on gun violence in prior years.

In September 2019, weeks after two shootings at Walmart stores, company CEO Doug McMillan issued a public memo discontinuing the sale of handguns in Alaska, the last state where the company carried the firearms, as well as some forms of ammunition. He also called on national leaders to strengthen background checks.

Walmart, one of the companies that did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News, still sells some types of guns and ammunition at many of its stores.

Also in 2019, Walmart, CVS Health, and Walgreens asked customers to no longer openly carry firearms in their stores. “We support the efforts of individuals and groups working to prevent gun violence,” CVS Health, another one of the companies contacted by ABC News, said in a statement at the time.

And Dick’s Sporting Goods, which was not one of the companies contacted by ABC News, in recent years has taken a series of steps to remove guns from its stores. In February 2018, days after a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the company announced that it would stop selling semi-automatic weapons similar to the one used in the incident.

“We were so disturbed and saddened, we felt we really needed to do something,” CEO Edward Stack told Good Morning America at the time. Since then, Dick’s has discontinued the sale of guns entirely at hundreds of stores as part of a multi-year reduction.

Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling, who runs the largest healthcare provider in New York state (but not part of the Fortune 500), in an interview with ABC News condemned gun violence and called for policy solutions such as universal background checks.

Dowling acknowledged to ABC that the pro-gun control political landscape in New York makes it easier for him to speak out, and encouraged his peers to do likewise.

“I know a lot of CEOs around the country. I’ve had discussions with them,” he said. “I know many of them are nervous about going public because of the political circumstances they’re in.”

“When I ask them if they think it’s okay that there are so many mass shootings, especially with kids. They’ll say, ‘It’s horrific.’ They’ll admit that. Then I say, ‘Say something about it — be courageous.’”

Contrast with other activism

The corporate silence on gun violence in the wake of the recent mass shootings stands in stark contrast with the recent widespread exit of U.S. companies from Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, O’Rourke, the business management professor, said.

“Executives decided the reputational risk of staying in Russia is far greater than any revenue I could extract,” O’Rourke said. “In domestic issues it’s complicated because lawmaking is mostly done at the local and state level, and executives must operate across state lines. If they take a position on every issue, it is likely key stake holders will abandon them.”

One notable example is Disney, which first remained silent and then came out strongly against what many perceive to be anti-LGBTQ legislation.

In recent months, Disney sparked ire from prominent national voices and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when the company publicly opposed the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” which prohibits public school teachers from providing instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for some of the youngest students and what opponents say is age-inappropriate material. In April, the state moved to dissolve a special tax district enjoyed by Disney. The special district is a private government run by Disney World that allows it to offer services such as zoning and fire protection.

In the wake of the Uvalde shooting, speaking out was a gamble some top companies decided to take nonetheless.

“All of us at Goldman Sachs express our deepest sorrow over the recent tragic and senseless acts of violence in America, which have resulted in the deaths of friends, neighbors, co-workers, children, and other loved ones,” Solomon, the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, told ABC News in a statement.

Solomon met last Wednesday with New York City Mayor Eric Adams and other private sector leaders to discuss the issue, he said in the statement. “I urge our elected officials to come together to enact policy initiatives to make our communities safer,” he added.

Jassy, the Amazon CEO, expressed similar sentiment a day after the mass shooting in Uvalde last week.

“Deeply sad about the shootings in Texas yesterday and Buffalo 11 days ago. My heart breaks for those families,” Jassy tweeted. “This endless cycle is maddening…terrible pain and suffering. I can only hope that we come together as a country to find a way to stop this kind of tragic violence.”

AT&T, one of the Fortune 500 companies that did not respond to a request for comment, donated $50,000 to support the Robb School Memorial Fund, a collection of resources for the families and communities impacted by the Uvalde shooting.

Notable corporate activism has emerged in professional sports. In baseball, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays coordinated recently with a series of social media posts that offered statements and information on gun violence

The advocacy continues a trend of rising activism among professional sports leagues, teams, and players in recent years on issues like police brutality and racial justice.

Divergent responses and possible action

The divergent response among major companies after recent mass shootings marks the latest moment of decision making for corporations as a political response embroiled the country. Similarly, large companies have remained mostly quiet in response to the leak last month of a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

Three years ago, the CEOs at 145 companies — including Airbnb and Yelp — sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate calling for new gun safety laws that would require background checks for all gun sales.

In the days following the death of George Floyd, in May 2020, companies across corporate America put out statements in support of racial justice and made donations to advocacy organizations that fight racial inequality.

Last April, as state legislatures pursued restrictive voting laws, hundreds of companies and executives signed a letter opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that limits access to the ballot box.

Carol Bevins, a professor of business communication at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, said that most major companies will ultimately address the issue of gun violence.

“Eventually, it’ll be inevitable that companies have to respond,” she said. “You cannot not communicate.”

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