Thursday, March 8, 2018

Bikes and Guns

No mistake about it, the Retrogrouch blog is about bicycles. Any grouching and occasional ranting that happen here mostly center on debates about older bicycles vs. new. "Old school" vs. "new school." I have some pretty strong opinions on bikes, and this blog is a good outlet for them.

I have some pretty strong opinions about other topics, too - but as they don't usually have anything to do with bikes, this blog generally isn't where they get vented. That makes it the unfortunate role of my friends and family to have to put up with them. Retrogrouch readers, consider yourselves lucky!

Guns wouldn't seem to have anything to do with this blog, so that is a subject of which I usually steer clear. But in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, there have been some interesting facts and ethical issues that have come to light - and they could have an impact on cyclists.

Some of the Vista Outdoor brands.
(graphic from Boulder Cycle Sport)
Before I get into that, I'm going to state something for the record and get it out of the way: I don't own guns, and have no desire to own them - but I do have friends who own guns. They're good folks, and there's no reason to judge. I believe in the 2nd Amendment -- but unlike some of the more vocal proponents of the 2nd, I don't ignore its first clause -- you know the one, the one that says "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state. . ." I believe it is dogmatic to claim that regulations on gun sales and ownership (such as universal background checks, mandatory registration, gun databases, and even restrictions or bans on certain types of guns and ammo) are somehow a violation of the 2nd Amendment. People may endlessly debate the point about exactly what does or does not constitute a "militia" - but the words "well regulated" make it pretty hard to argue that the government has no right to impose restrictions on guns.

OK, now that you know that, you can decide whether or not that colors your opinion about the rest of what I'm writing about here.

So back to bikes. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, advocates for more gun control have been promoting a new strategy - to use boycotts to push for change. And in that interest, news has recently surfaced that a number of products and brands used by many of us cyclists have connections to the gun industry, and this has come as a surprise. Notably, that Vista Outdoor, a conglomerate corporation which owns one of the US's largest gun and ammo manufacturers also owns such bicycle-related brands as Bell and Giro, Blackburn, Camelbak, and CoPilot. The revelation originally came from Aaron Naparstek, a bicycle advocate who founded the website Streetsblog.

The day after the Florida shooting, Naparstek tweeted out, "The same company that manufactures your CoPilot rear-rack child bicycle safety seat also produces the SavageArms MSR Patrol assault rifle." Another tweet: "It's just jarring to me that when I bought @GiroCyclingUK, @BellBikeHelmets, @CamelBak and CoPilot products, I put money in the pockets of a domestic arms dealer."

According to the BikeBiz website, Vista purchased Bell, Giro, and Blackburn in 2016. They've owned Camelbak since 2015. The company has a PAC that funds the NRA and politicians who promote the NRA agenda.

Naparstek has called for a consumer boycott of all Vista's bicycle-industry brands, and word has been spreading. Some bicycle shops and chains have announced that they will stop carrying the brands.

From Outside Online.
Now, rather than start preaching that everyone should support such a boycott - I'll just say people should really consider such an issue carefully and make their own choice in the matter. To that end, there was an interesting article on the Outside website that looked at the pros and cons of such a boycott, and the ethics associated with it. The Outside article contained opinions from several business and ethics professors, and there was not unanimous agreement on the subject. I recommend reading the article, and I won't re-cover the whole thing here, but I will touch on a couple of points brought up.

Here was one thought: should a person who buys a Camelbak or a Giro helmet feel in any way responsible for the actions of Vista's guns or ammo businesses - or violent actions that happen with their products? No - of course not. The fact is, that whether someone buys Vista's bicycle accessories or not, the manufacture and sale of firearms will continue. But if one is against guns, or supports gun control measures, and they can buy a helmet or a new tire pump without supporting the gun industry and its lobbyists, it may be worthwhile to choose a different brand because dollars can make a difference. One of the ethicists in the Outside article, Sarah-Vaughan Brakman of Villanova University, states: "If we believe something is wrong, and if together our purchasing power can significantly change the bottom line, then consumers should change their habits."

Although two of the ethicists in the article seemed to support the idea that a consumer boycott can be effective in producing change, one seemed to see the issue as a little more complicated. Jason Brennan, of Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, said, "Boycotts attempt to impose a cost on the corporation. But a corporation is not a person--it has no body to kick or soul to damn. It's extremely difficult to impose a cost in such a way that the cost falls on the CEO rather than some janitor working at the firm."

Brennan added that things get even more complicated when the boycott targets a company that is merely a subsidiary company of a larger conglomerate, as is the case here. "Targeting one subsidiary company with the goal of hurting another is roughly on par with beating up someone because you dislike his or her cousin," said Brennan. "It's highly unlikely you'll end up hurting the other subsidiary you actually despise." Ultimately, Brennan stated, if people really want to see changes, they should push for change through legislation. That would include voting for people who support the changes you want, and applying pressure to lawmakers to see it through.

So - support the boycott or not? My own feeling on it is that I don't support the NRA, and I don't want to support, either directly or indirectly, the gun industry -- they get plenty of money without my help. Knowing that a portion of what I spend on a new bicycle helmet or some other accessory for my bike goes to support a gun company that lobbies against meaningful gun control, and promotes a stance on guns that I don't agree with is problematic to me. When it comes to helmets, I've long been a fan of Giro helmets -- they seem to combine the look and fit that I'm usually after. And I have other gear from the company, which also markets shoes and other clothing that I tend to like, so I'm a bit disappointed. I'm not an "active" boycott supporter, but the next time I'm looking at helmets or accessories, I think it would be hard for me to ignore the gun-industry connection, and that might cause me to look a little more closely at alternatives from other brands. As to whether other people support a boycott, or even wear a helmet at all - well, that's up to them. No, it's not a really strong stance - but it seems to me that the issue is just muddy enough to make it hard to get overly strident about.


  1. I, too, have been wearing Giro helmets and using Blackburn racks for years. I don't need to buy any more now, but the next time I am on the market, I may have to reconsider my brand loyalty. Then again, I don't want to hurt that hourly worker who is cleaning the floor instead of Vista or NRA management.

    1. That's the thing - It's not a simple, clear-cut thing, is it?

  2. I don't think a Boycott can produce results, but I do steer away from corporations whose morals are not among mine.

    Since we are talking about bicycles, I can tell you I prefer Taiwanese products over Chinese. Why? Because Taiwanese workers have unions and can negotiate their wages and rights without fear of being thrown in jail. In China, EVERY business has to be approved or be partially owned by the State, so any "misbehavior" can be considered a felony.

    While I know my money won't make a dent into their economics, at least I can be at peace with myself knowing that I am not funding that kind of abuse.

  3. To bring the guns/bicycles discussion full circle, years ago I owned an old BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) three speed (it got dumped into a canal). BSA started as a firearms manufacturer, later made motorcycles, bicycles, aircraft, cars, and a huge variety of other metal products. I always like the the head tube badge, three crossed rifles and the BSA initials.

  4. In the 18th Century, "well regulated" meant provisioned with equipment that was maintained in good repair, and ready for use at all times. At the time that the 2nd Amendment was drafted, the phrase had nothing to do with governmental control.

  5. Hitler was a great proponent of gun control. When the general populace is disarmed you end up with things like Treblinka and the Warsaw Ghetto. People say that could never happen in America. Bullshit! You've got a fascist ensconced in the White house right now. The 2nd amendment is there for a reason and it isn't deer hunting. Bear in mind you're hearing this from a flaming socialist which must be ironic for some.

    1. I really don't want to engage a gun debate here - but "gun control" does not mean "disarming" law-abiding citizens, and no serious gun control advocates are calling for such a thing. And I'd like to point out that it only took 6 comments to reach "Godwin's Law" - aka "Reductio ad Hitlerum."

    2. Yes,I suppose I did pull the Hitler card too soon. Sorry.

    3. You're fine, Phillip. I imagine we probably agree on many many things.

  6. Staying with the bikes and guns theme, I also owned a C. Itoh bike, a Japanese conglomerate that made, among other things, armaments for the Japanese war effort (no Godwin's Law here!). It was my first brand new ten speed, the only bike I ever won a race with, and as a typical "Bike Boom" bike it was complete junk. The frame was so flexible the front derailleur rubbed on the chain ring under the slightest pressure. Ah, those were the days!

  7. Well worded, and thought out.

    It's a tricky bit of navigation, talking about this topic without stepping on someones toes, and you did a great job, at least IMHO.

    Long time gun owner and advocate for the sport. Was raised in a hunting household, did plenty of marksmanship training in Scouts, and have a more than healthy respect for the damage they can do in the wrong hands. Had a young friend killed in a "kids goofing around when no one was home" incident in middle school... =:(

    I don't carry any of those brands, and knowing the above, wouldn't start to.

    The NRA lost their way a long time ago, and it's sad. Used to be an education, and conservation group, now, a bunch of whackadoos obsessed with their metallic phallic replacements.

    My tenant (retired Marine) heard my thoughts on the NRA, felt I was wrong, did a bit of reading, and got back to me to apologize, and cancelled his membership. Seems he'd been paying money to what he remembered them being, not what they've become, kudos to him for that.

    Ethically? It seems that money is the only thing that talks, and I have no issues with not buying from a company that doesn't fit my world views.

    That corporations "aren't people" is laughable. Citizens United changed all that, and while they may not have a corporeal body, they sure do enjoy all the other benefits of being a *person* and use them to their full legal and fiscal advantage. So vote with your dollars, there's plenty of janitorial jobs out there, one of the few things that can;t be outsourced, frankly....