Dick’s Sporting Goods ends sale of guns to customers under 21

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By , VTDigger.org

RUTLAND TOWN — Dick’s Sporting Goods says it will no longer sell assault-style rifles and will not sell any guns to anyone under 21, a policy that would have prevented a Vermont teen accused of plotting a school shooting from buying a firearm there.

The action by the nationwide retailer comes on the heels of a school shooting in Florida and a foiled plot in Vermont where an 18-year-old bought a shotgun at one of the company’s stores. Jack Sawyer’s purchase of a 12-gauge shotgun at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Rutland Town is among the evidence of what prosecutors argue was an attempt to carry out an attack.

Edward W. Stack, CEO and chairman of the Pennsylvania-based retailer, made the announcement Wednesday on the morning ABC-TV show, “Good Morning America,” and in a statement issued by the company.

Vermont is home to two Dick’s Sporting Goods stores located in Rutland Town and Williston.

In making its announcement about changes in policy regarding gun sales, Stack wrote in his statement that the company is “deeply disturbed and saddened by the tragic events” at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims and their loved ones,” Stack wrote. “But thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

Stack’s statement references that school shooting earlier this month in Florida, where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz is charged with killing 17 people. Stack also wrote that the retailer legally sold a shotgun to Cruz in November.

“It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting,” Stack wrote. “But it could have been. Clearly this indicates on so many levels that the systems in place are not effective to protect our kids and our citizens.”

The announcement does not mention the Vermont case, however, the company’s change in policy that went into effect Wednesday would have prevented the sale of a firearm by the retailer to Sawyer, a former Fair Haven Union High School student from Poultney.

That’s because, according to court records filed in his case, Sawyer was 18 when he bought a Maverick model 88 Security 12-gauge pump shotgun at Dick’s Sporting Goods store just days before his arrest earlier this month.

Also, according to court records, Sawyer had plans to purchase an AR-15 rifle and a 9mm Glock handgun. However, he never made those purchases, though authorities say he told them of steps he took in his attempt to acquire them.

The teen admitted to recently buying a 12-gauge shotgun at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Rutland Town as well as some buckshot shells. Authorities say Sawyer filled out and passed a background check to purchase the 12-gauge shotgun.

While it wasn’t illegal for Sawyer to purchase the 12-gauge rifle, prosecutors have contended it’s among the evidence that shows his intent to carry out his alleged plot to shoot up his former high school in Fair Haven.

Police say they were able to thwart Sawyer’s school shooting plot when a friend of his alerted them to a series of messages they exchanged over Facebook where Sawyer voiced support for the school shooting in Florida and talked about his plans for one in Fair Haven.

Sawyer was then arrested and charged with four felonies, including counts of attempted first-degree murder. He has pleaded innocent to the charges and is currently being held without bail. A hearing started this week is expected to continue Friday to determine if Sawyer can remain held without bail pending his trial.

Stack, Dick’s CEO and chairman, said in a statement issued Wednesday that he has admiration for students and organizations making their voices heard around the country regarding gun violence.

“We have heard you,” Stack wrote. “The nation has heard you.”

Chris Bradley, a gun-rights advocate who heads the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said he was disappointed by the announcement.

“I’m very sorry that Dick’s Sporting Goods made that decision. I can’t particularly understand it because every other firearm they have in their inventory can be used in some capacity to do nefarious acts,” he said.

“I think it’s very difficult to say this is a hunting rifle, but it could never be used to do nefarious things, and this is some other type of rifle that can be,” he added.

Bradley noted the inconsistency around preventing people under 21 from purchasing guns when America allows them to go to war.

“Someone who’s 18 can go and fight for our country. It’s a really difficult situation,” he said of the debate around age limits. “I happen to think at the age of 18 years, you can legally purchase. If you can vote, you can legally purchase.”

Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling assault-style weapons at its stores following the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting in 2012. However, the company still sold them at Field & Stream, the company’s outdoor and hunting chain of 35 stores.

Now, the company said sales of assault-style rifles would stop at its Field & Stream locations as well. There are no Field & Streams stores in Vermont.

The New York Times reported Wednesday morning that Stack expected a mix of responses to the new policies.

“The whole hunting business is an important part of our business, and we know there is going to be backlash on this,” Stack was quoted as saying. “But we’re willing to accept that.”

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