What Was the Springfield Armory Controversy?

June 18, 2020 • Devin Partida


The United States endures the most mass shootings, and the fiercest controversy surrounding guns, of any country in the developed world.

The Springfield Armory controversy of 2018 was one of the most recent flashpoints in this ongoing conversation. This chapter involved a gun manufacturer with roots dating back to Colonial America, Dick’s Sporting Goods and two very different responses to a flurry of school shootings.

Springfield Armory Bids Dick’s Goodbye

On May 3, 2018, Springfield Armory posted a Facebook message saying it was parting ways with the sporting goods franchise. The message explained that Springfield was “announc[ing] its decision in response to Dick’s Sporting Goods’ attempts to deny Second Amendment freedoms.”

Similarly, it went on to say that the decision was a “response to their hiring a group for anti-Second Amendment lobbying” and followed Dick’s “decision to remove and destroy all modern sporting rifles from their inventory” and to “deny Second Amendment rights to Americans under the age of 21.”

Finally, the message concluded that “We will not accept Dick’s Sporting Goods’ continued attempts to deny Second Amendment freedoms to our fellow Americans.”

Unpacking Dick’s Sporting Goods’ and Springfield Armory’s Decisions

There are several claims worth unpacking in the Springfield Armory message and its decision to sever ties with Dick’s — and its subsidiary Field & Stream.

The first is that Dick’s had removed guns from some of its stores. This is true. Following the Parkland shooting in February 2018, Dick’s stopped selling semi-automatic weapons. Months later, the retailer pulled all guns from 10 of its stores. An additional 125 stores followed suit in March 2019, and then 440 more stores in early 2020.

The second Springfield claim is that Dick’s retained lobbyists to persuade Congress to “deny” the “sacred right” of gun ownership to “law-abiding American citizens of adult age.” This statement appears to be true, though it oversimplifies the retailer’s intent.

Per the Lobbying Disclosure Act, Dick’s stated in April 2018 that it had retained the services of Glover Park Group for “lobbying related to gun control.” Spokespersons for Dick’s declined to elaborate on the move when asked for comment by news outlets.

The company’s CEO was less reticent, however, stating that, “We have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America — our kids.” In 2019, the “problem” took the form of more than one mass shooting per day in the United States.

What Do Dick’s, Springfield Armory and Gun Control Lobbyists Want From Congress?

Springfield Armory is no stranger to controversy. In 2017, the company earned considerable ire from the gun-owning community for first opposing and then retracting its opposition to the proposed Illinois Gun Dealer Licensing Act (SB1657). The bill would have required arms dealers in the state to obtain state-level licensure. Illinois gun dealers already require federal-level licensure.

Many gun enthusiasts saw Springfield’s about-face as a “selling out” of gun owners, pointing out that the gun manufacturer would have received an exemption — a “carve-out” — in exchange for withdrawing their opposition to the bill.

That controversy has now passed, with a Springfield spokesperson saying they were “ill-informed of the ramifications of [the] bill.” The gunmaker has since pivoted back to “100 percent” opposition to SB1657. As of April 28, 2018, SB1657 has not become law.

It is difficult to see how SB1657 would have substantially impinged the rights of gun owners in Illinois. Requiring state-level licensure for gun dealers would not seem to conflict with the spirit of the Second Amendment.

Whether or not Springfield’s dealings in this matter constitute a “selling out” of gun owners, it does beg the question — what does the company want from the Illinois General Assembly or the U.S. Congress?

Attacks on the Second Amendment?

The company’s statements on Dick’s and SB1657 equate fairly bland gun control efforts with attacks on the Second Amendment. The language used in the company’s response to these controversies echoes the language used in political attack ads identified by FactCheck.org as “misleading.” Specifically, that any move to curtail some firearm sales is an attack on all firearm sales.

One ad paid for by the Make America Great Again Committee blasted Democrats for “proudly calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment.”

However, as of September 2019, neither FactCheck.org — a project of the University of Pennsylvania — nor the Trump Administration had found or named a single member of the U.S. Congress nor any presidential candidate calling for that kind of change to the Constitution.

The Future of the Second Amendment in the United States

As of August 2019, Congress had 110 gun bills under consideration. None of these proposes a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Some of the bills’ goals include universal background checks, banning assault-style weaponry and banning federal funds from being used to arm teachers. Other more politically conservative measures include concealed carry reciprocity, meaning a license to conceal carry in one state would be valid in all other states.

Firearm ownership and almost constant mass shootings remain lightning rods for controversy in the U.S., including Springfield’s part in the furor.

In contrast, many other countries have found a productive compromise and saved tremendous numbers of lives by engaging in good-faith debates and deploying fewer straw-man arguments and “misleading” political Facebook ads.

Want more insights into tech and politics? Read What Is Open Government Data and Why Does It Matter?