CamelBak water bottles, Bell bicycle helmets, Giro ski goggles: What these products have in common is that they’re owned by Vista Outdoor, which includes gun and ammo makers among its brands as well as a strong National Rifle Association connection.
And that’s part of the reason REI, a nationwide outdoor retailer and consumer co-op, announced Thursday night that it would, for the time being, no longer be ordering CamelBak, Bell, Giro or any other of the 50 Vista Outdoor brands to sell in its stores.
REI’s announcement came just hours after thousands of REI’s members signed an online petition urging REI to cut ties with Vista Outdoor over Vista’s support for the National Rifle Association and its gun-manufacturing business. Vista Outdoor operates Idaho’s largest ammunition-manufacturing plant, the former Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, plant that employs more than 1,000 workers in Lewiston.
REI joins a widening range of companies that, since the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead, have in some way taken a stand against assault-style weapons and the NRA by discontinuing sales, making it harder to buy weapons or cutting ties.
Within the past week, Dick’s Sporting Goods has discontinued the sale of assault-style weapons altogether, banned the sale of high-capacity magazines and banned the sale of other guns to anyone under 21. Kroger’s Fred Meyer chain, the Oregon-based Bi-Mart chain, Walmart and L.L. Bean also have raised the age to 21 for gun sales.
In fact, REI was at least the second company on Thursday to announce its split from Vista Outdoor. The other was Mountain Equipment Co-Op, an outdoors equipment retailer similar to REI that said it had received an overwhelming number of requests from its members to stop helping a gun-manufacturer profit by selling its outdoor products.
REI said in a statement that it was Vista Outdoor’s silence that led it to cease selling Vista’s non-gun products indefinitely.
“REI does not sell guns. We believe that it is the job of companies that manufacture and sell guns and ammunition to work towards common-sense solutions that prevent the type of violence that happened in Florida last month,” REI’s statement said. “In the last few days, we’ve seen such action from companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart and we applaud their leadership. . . . This morning we learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action. As a result, we have decided to place a hold on future orders of products that Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds.”
Vista Outdoor’s business is divided into two branches. One side is dedicated to outdoor products, with brands such as Bolle, Bushnell, CamelBak, Camp Chef and Jimmy Styks. The other is dedicated to “shooting sports,” which generate 54 percent of the company’s external sales revenue, according to its annual report. Its firearms brands include Savage Arms, which makes “modern sporting rifles” and lists a semiautomatic series of weapons on its website, and Federal Premium Ammunition, which sponsors NRATV. Vista Outdoor also is a large vendor at the NRA’s annual gun show.
In its 2017 annual report to investors, the company expressed concern about the possibility that Congress or state lawmakers could succeed in passing gun-control measures, affecting Vista’s revenue.
More than 16,000 people signed the petition to REI.
“Please drop Vista Brands, because you are supporting the gun lobby by selling their products,” one woman from California wrote. “There is no other purpose for guns except to kill. How many more innocent lives will be tragically lost before this stops?”
Another from Texas said: “I am a PROUD REI member and enough is ENOUGH! REI does not need to associate with companies that are keeping gun manufacturers afloat.”
CamelBak pushed back on the boycott that has ended up targeting its hydration products, saying that since CamelBak fell under the outdoors-product branch of Vista Outdoor, consumers shouldn’t be concerned that they are supporting the gun industry.
“A major concern for the boycott centers around the incorrect assumption that the purchase of any of our products may support a cause that does not fit the mission/values of our brand,” the company said in a statement. “That is not the case. Our brand falls within the Outdoor Products segment of our company, which operates separately from Vista Outdoor’s Shooting Sports segment. Since 1989, CamelBak has been committed to forever changing the way people hydrate and perform. Our passion and love for the outdoors is unchanged.”
A spokesperson for Vista Outdoor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Idaho Statesman contributed.