In the aftermath of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., the American people are mad.
Mad at the FBI, which received a detailed and specific warning of the shooting but never followed up. Mad at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which visited the attacker’s home 23 times before the shooting and waited outside for several minutes before running into the high school. And, of course, they’re mad at the killer.
Progressive activists and many in the news media have rather different priorities. Their ire is focused squarely on a group that wasn’t tipped off, wasn’t a first responder, and had no affiliation with the attacker. Namely, the National Rifle Association.
CNN held an hour-long town hall where the audience hollered at the GOP, hooted at the NRA, and lauded the disgraced sheriff. But progressive activists are no longer content with mere political theater — they’re targeting any and all businesses that have any affiliation with the NRA.
Across social media, left-leaning accounts have pressured a slew of companies offering modest discounts to NRA’s 5 million members. These deals are in the companies' interest, and they extend them to thousands of organizations. When an airline offers 10% off a ticket to a national conference, that helps the bottom line.
But as soon as a vocal group started yelling online, many of these companies cancelled the programs — some within 24 hours. Enterprise car rental, Delta Air Lines, MetLife insurance, Symantec security software and several others abruptly abandoned their often long-standing arrangements with the NRA.
Emboldened by the easy victory, the activists moved to new targets. Celebrities shared cut-and-paste messages on Twitter demanding that Apple, Google, Roku and Amazon immediately remove NRATV from their video streaming services.
There are all kinds of programs I don’t like; I've never considered prohibiting anyone else from watching them.
All of the companies that decided to cave quickly learned that public pressure and boycotts are a two-way street. NRA members strongly criticized their shortsighted move and promised never to use their services again. Let’s just say there are a lot of corporate social media managers who didn’t get much sleep last weekend.
As this effort expands, there are now calls for credit card companies, banks and financial processing firms to refuse to do business with vendors who sell perfectly legal firearms and accouterments. Before this witch hunt ends, perhaps there can be two separate financial systems — one for Republicans and one for Democrats.
The NRA’s critics don’t understand that the group’s power doesn’t derive from minor discounts from travel companies or donations to politicians. It comes from the more than 5 million members who make up the organization.
These Americans of all races, religions and political parties are passionately dedicated to protecting their Second Amendment rights. They are highly informed and politically active, and often base their votes on that fundamental issue.
By cowering to a day of social media pressure, these companies are punishing 5 million potential customers simply for holding a common view in American politics — that the Constitution is the law of the land.
NRA members are just a small portion of the roughly 74 million gun owners in America. Are they to be chased out of the marketplace as well?
It’s a free country, of course, and businesses can do what they want. But instead of feeling chastened, lots of NRA members will simply take their business elsewhere. I’m an NRA member and had no idea discounts were even available. Now, however, I’m exceptionally aware of those companies who not only hold me in contempt but also have no interest in my disposable income.
The larger problem isn’t this temporary tempest. All of these pressure campaigns accomplish nothing but alienate people based on their politics. The result is to divide Americans into ever smaller subgroups in which we can’t sit in the same town hall or, apparently, shop in the same stores.
Every marketer knows the most expensive customer you have is the one who walks away. By bumbling their way into the latest culture war, companies will have to relearn this lesson the hard way.