by Melissa Quinn | June 06, 2019 11:00 PM
A new policy from Salesforce that bars customers from using its business software to sell high-capacity firearms underscores the risk that large companies will wield their outsize influence to support social changes that lack broad support from federal lawmakers and voters, gun rights groups say.
The San Francisco-based company appears to be taking a page from the banking industry, where some lenders have restricted services to gun retailers and firearms manufacturers, said Mark Oliva, public affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group that represents the firearms industry. It’s an example, he said, of advocacy “running amok.”
“Some people may think this is a great idea, but if it is allowed now because the targeted product is a particular type of firearm, what’s to prevent this or another company from deciding sometime in the future to essentially blacklist another product it doesn’t like?” said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
At that point, he said, “we’re not talking about an affront to the Second Amendment and millions of law-abiding firearms owners, we’re talking about possible restraint of trade.”
The policy from Salesforce, a cloud-based software company, follows congressional inaction after a series of deadly mass shootings including the killing of 11 people at a Virginia Beach, Va., municipal building in May, 17 students and staff at a South Florida high school in February 2018, and 58 people at a Las Vegas music festival in October 2017.
The violence prompted calls for tighter restrictions on sales of high-capacity weapons and equipment such as silencers. Gun rights supporters pushed back, citing the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms and arguing that legal restrictions wouldn’t keep criminals from getting guns.
Companies have begun taking action on their own, curbing relationships with the firearms industry and limiting sales of certain weapons. Such companies are “viewing your Second Amendment right as a disfavored right,” Oliva said. “They’re going to try to choke it off through the ability to conduct business. We see this as a discriminatory move, which is they’re trying to eliminate your right to keep and bear arms and buy the firearms of your choosing.”
Salesforce’s update to its acceptable-use policy for customers of its e-commerce technology prohibits the sale of automatic firearms, 3D-printed guns, and semiautomatic firearms that work with a detachable magazine as well as accessories such as sound suppressors and pistol grips.
It’s not the first time Salesforce has waded into the politically charged issue. In the wake of the Florida shooting, CEO Marc Benioff called for AR-15 rifles to be banned. He also pledged $1 million to March For Our Lives, the gun control group launched by survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The change will affect a small number of existing customers when their contracts expire, as well as new users, a Salesforce spokeswoman said. Before making its decision, the company carefully reviewed “similar policies in the industry” and discussed the matter with stakeholders.
Gun rights groups see the move as part of a broader effort in corporate boardrooms to regulate guns outside of the legislative process.
“When you start to use your business influence to curtail people’s rights, to exercise their ability to pick and choose how they want to defend themselves, it becomes a very chilling effect on American society,” Oliva said.
In the case of banks, Republican Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and John Kennedy of Louisiana introduced legislation in March designed to discourage lenders from cutting ties with the firearms industry.
With Salesforce, Erich Pratt, executive director for Gun Owners of America, hopes to see other companies step in to offer similar services without the restrictions.
“These types of decisions often come with a cost,” he said, noting that similar efforts by other companies have led to boycotts and slumping sales.
Last year, for example, Dick’s Sporting Goods saw its revenue fall 4.5% after it raised the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21 and stopped selling AR-15-style rifles in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
“Gun owners have long memories,” Pratt said. “The market will sift this out because people who are offended by this will look to other places to shop.”