Some of cycling’s biggest brands, including Giro, Bell, Camelbak, and Blackburn, have become the target of a boycott by US cycling advocates – because their parent company manufactures firearms and ammunition.
Vista Outdoor bought Camelbak in 2015, and purchased Giro and Blackburn from BRG Sports in 2016, adding to a portfolio that includes a large range of outdoor brands. The bulk of Vista’s businesses, though, are related to guns. Browse through the brands on their web page and you’ll see telescopic sights, holsters, ammunition, as well as the firearms brand Savage.
While most of Vista Outdoor’s products appear to be aimed at the sport shooting or hunting market, there are some which strike a much more uncomfortable note in light of recent events in the US. Savage, who manufacture an AR-15 style assault rifle, offers a free T-shirt with its guns, with the slogan “Support the second amendment: pass the ammunition”, while Millett Tactical’s website shows an assault rifle-carrying helmeted figure with the slogan “Engage. Neutralise. Next.”
It’s Vista’s support of the National Rifle Association, though, which has really brought down the wrath of the US cycling community. In the wake of the Marjorie Stoneman High School shooting – the eighth school shooting in the USA this year – firearms lobby group the NRA are once again in the spotlight. Vista spent over $500,000 on lobbying in 2017, and are a major sponsor of the NRA’s in-house TV channel, which been criticised by progressive watchdog group Media Matters for its attempts to deflect attention from tougher gun control.
The company is also active in the smaller, but still influential National Sports Shooting Foundation, an industry-led lobby group which has campaigned for the relaxation of “concealed carry” laws, and wants to rebrand semi-automatic assault weapons as “Modern Sporting Rifles” (Although they do also support some gun control measures, such as more thorough background checks)
Bicycling friends: Did you know that @Giro, Bell, @CamelBak, Copilot and a few other bike gear brands that you may enjoy are owned by @VistaOutdoorInc, America’s largest manufacturer of ammunition? https://t.co/BGXEjEvgvo
— Aaron Naparstek (@Naparstek) February 21, 2018
The call for a boycott has been led by New York-based cycling advocate Aaron Naparstek, who set out his reasoning in a series of Twitter posts earlier this week. The link between cycling and guns has since made the front page of sustainable transport website Streetsblog (of which Naparstek is a founding editor), and UK industry website Bikebiz.
Why, you might reasonably ask, is a firearms company buying up cycling brands? The US gun industry is a volatile market, and thanks to relatively high levels of gun ownership there, it doesn’t take much to trigger a slump in sales. The election of Donald Trump, on a platform which promised relaxed gun control laws, meant that firearms enthusiasts bought fewer guns and stockpiled less ammunition, and in 2017 Vista’s shares lost 67% of their value. So the purchasing of other sports brands appears to be a way of hedging their bets.
The other questions raised by all this are ones for Giro, Bell, Blackburn and Camelbak’s prospective customers. Will they be OK with buying from a company that makes good cycling products, but also cross-subsidises the firearms industry? Is it fair to avoid a company because of who owns it, when its employees and riders didn’t get a say in the decision? For some people these might be difficult choices. For others, perhaps not.