REI joins gun-related boycott of major Utah outdoor gear company

The outdoor retail giant joins national Canadian chains and independent shops in cutting ties.

(Koji Sasahara | The Associated Press) People stroll around REI Japan's Tokyo flagship store. A major Utah outdoor-gear supplier is facing widespread calls for boycotts over its ties to the gun industry — and on Thursday, retail giant REI announced it was joining the movement.

A major Utah outdoor-gear supplier is facing widespread calls for boycotts over its ties to the gun industry — and on Thursday, retail giant REI announced it was joining the movement.

Farmington-based Vista Outdoor owns about 50 gear brands, ranging from Camelbak hydration packs to Bolle sunglasses and Camp Chef outdoor cooking equipment.

It also sells assault-rifle-style “modern sporting” rifles, tactical gear and assorted gun accessories and is best known as an ammunition supplier. In a February news release, it describes itself as”a longtime supporter of the National Rifle Association (NRA).” Some of its brands are giving away T-shirts emblazoned with the message “Support the 2nd Amendment. Pass the ammunition.”

Now outdoor gear buyers are calling for retailers to stop selling Vista Outdoor’s products.

“Stop profiting from companies that promote and manufacture assault weapons,” wrote Massachusetts REI member Jesse Ladner, whose online petition to REI had nearly 16,000 supporters as of Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday evening, REI said it was suspending its orders for Vista Outdoor products.

“This morning we learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action,” REI officials wrote in a news release. “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.”

Also on Thursday, Canada’s biggest outdoor gear merchant, Mountain Equipment Co-op, announced that it would discontinue its orders from the company after pressure from its members.

”Thousands of MEC members have contacted us to express their concerns and to ask that we stop selling products made by these brands,” wrote David Labistour, CEO.

Canadian merchant Running Room, which bills itself as “North America’s largest specialty retailer” of running and walking gear, followed suit shortly thereafter, saying: “Our management teams are currently doing a full review of our suppliers and vendors for any other potential conflicts.”

Calls for boycotts spread especially quickly in the cycling community, where Camelbak products have long been prolific, and Vista Outdoor’s helmet brands are well-known. Several bike shops have posted on social media that they will no longer carry the brands.

Vista Outdoor’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a Salt Lake Tribune request for comment. However, Camelbak on Thursday posted to its website a response to the boycotts:

“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,” it said. “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.”

Many companies have pulled their support for the NRA and have changed gun policies in the wake of a school shooting that killed 17 people in Florida last month.

On Wednesday, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods added restrictions for gun sales. Walmart raised to 21 its age limit for purchasing guns and ammunition, while Dick’s said it would raise its age limit on guns and would stop selling assault rifles like the one used in the Florida attack.

REI applauded its competitor Dick’s, as well as Walmart, for the policy changes.

“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 officials wrote. “Companies are showing they can contribute if they are willing to lead. We encourage Vista to do just that.”