As It Happens

MEC chief executive on why his company is pulling brands linked to U.S. gunmaker

MEC CEO David Labistour says the Vancouver-based company can be a "catalyst for a conversation around gun control."
David Labistour, CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-Op, says the Canadian company can help spark a conversation about gun control by cutting ties with Vista Outdoor brands. (Submitted by NKPR)

Story transcript

Mountain Equipment Co-op CEO David Labistour says his company has decided to stop selling outdoor equipment brands linked to a U.S. gunmaker because it wants to be "a catalyst for a conversation around gun control."

MEC doesn't sell guns, but had faced growing calls to stop selling brands owned by Vista Outdoor because the U.S. company also develops and manufactures firearms similar to the type of rifle used at a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people.

Labistour, CEO of the Vancouver-based chain, spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the decision.

Here is part of that conversation.

What message is MEC trying to send out by halting the sale of brands owned by Vista Outdoor?

We, as a co-op and a member-based organization, listen to our members. 

What we've chose to do is to focus on the issue of gun control.

And we know that we have no control over the issue — it would be hubris to believe that we did — but I do believe we are able to influence and be a catalyst for a conversation around gun control.

AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Penn., Oct. 6, 2017. MEC's CEO says he'd like to see Vista pushing for a ban on assault-style weapons. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Jim Byers, one of the founders of MEC, was saying you're "waffling" — that it took you days to come to the decision, and that you shouldn't be supporting a corporation that has holdings in the manufacture of assault-style weapons.

We've always prided ourselves on getting all the facts before we make a decision, and I personally want to be able to look anyone with any opinion in the eye and be able to tell them that the decision made was made with all the facts available — and I believe that we can do that.

Did you have those who thought you were wrong to make this decision?

We certainly do have members that don't agree with what we've done.

Again, I would challenge people: Are you willing to have a discussion about gun control?

And this is not about sport shooting or hunting. This is about the broader discussion about the appropriate ownership of weapons.

So you're trying to start a discussion. You're not trying to put pressure on companies to not manufacture or to sell these kinds of weapons?

No, we're not. As I say, we have no control over that. But we are trying to put pressure on people to have that conversation and to talk about responsible gun control.

You also say you're only "suspending" your sales of these brands. And there's a curious line, also, in your release, where you say you will "continue to engage" with these brands. What are you trying to say?

We've been with these brands, most of them, from way before any acquisition by Vista. And we know that the people in these brands are very much like us.

So we want to keep this discussion going and we want to see if we can't encourage these people to advocate for gun control.

Mountain Equipment Co-Op doesn't sell any weapons or ammunition, but does sell a variety of products that are made by Vista Outdoor, a U.S. company that also makes weaponry. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

What exactly would you need to see in order to re-engage with them and to start bringing your products back into your store? 

That they become advocates for constructive gun control.

That's a wide range of things. ... What would be a position on the part of this company that you would say, "Yeah, you are actively engaged with some kind of gun control"?

The objective of responsible gun control would be to ensure that gun ownership is restricted to people that have the ability and the correct use for that weapon. 

CamelBak, makers of water waters, is one of the brands that MEC will no longer sell. (David McNew/Getty Images)

For many people, the bottom line would be that there would be a ban on these assault rifles and on bump stocks and anything that is of that nature. Would you agree that that is a kind of necessary beginning?

Yes, absolutely. There's no question about that.

You'd need to see all that before you'd re-engage with this company?

We don't control it, but we would like to see advocacy toward that end.

What have you hard back from Vista Outdoor since you've made this decision?

What I can tell you is Vista's in a really tough spot.

What do you mean?

They have two different businesses and they have two very different stakeholders.

What are they saying to you about their difficulty with that?

I don't want to speak for Vista. I think that the conversations we've had with them have been, for the most part, respectful. And I would like to keep those between the two of us.

Are they angry with you?

They've been very respectful and business-like.

Do they disagree with you?

Obviously, if they agreed with us, we'd be in a different situation. So we have a difference of opinion.

Some of the brands you will no longer be selling are very popular in your store. ... What's this going to do to your business?

The financial impact is not immaterial, but it's not massive and we do have alternative products.

— With files from Reuters