, If there’s one brand name out there which we associate with the Old West, it’s not Smith & Wesson or Colt, it’s Levi’s, as in Levi-Strauss. Their signature product, denim jeans held together with copper rivets rather than just plain thread, didn’t really become a mass market item until long after the frontier was closed, but the name and those leather labels still evokes everything which symbolizes how and when the U.S.A. was formed.
All of a sudden it seems, the company has decided to make a very strong and very public statement about guns. And it’s not a statement about how Winchester and Levi-Strauss won the West. To the contrary, in an open letter to Fortune Magazine, a publication you’ll find on the coffee table of virtually every business leader in the United States, Levi’s CEO, Chip Bergh, is urging the business sector to take what he calls a ‘stand on gun violence, which follows from a company policy announced in 2016 which banned guns from all Levi’s stores. The policy even applies to stores located in jurisdictions where carrying a gun is permitted by law.
Did the company receive the usual assortment of nasty emails and threats from the usual collection of pro-gun trolls? Of course. Did Bergh and the company’s other executives back down? Here’s his final comment from the 2016 piece: “In the end, I believe we have an obligation to our employees and customers to ensure a safe environment and keeping firearms out of our stores and offices will get us one step closer to achieving that reality.”
Did Levi-Strauss suffer at the cash register the way that a gaggle of alt-right trolls is claiming Nike will see its sales collapse because of the new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick that even has Sleazy Don weighing in to remind everyone that he’s America’s Patriot Number One? Levi’s has been privately-owned so we can’t determine whether they have paid any kind of price with falling revenues since they announced the ban. The company has left open the issue of enforcement but the message is clear: one of America’s most storied and celebrated business organizations has decided to turn its back on guns.
In addition to the open letter, the company is also putting its money behind its mouth in the form of a million-dollar Safer Tomorrow Fund that will support what it calls “the work of nonprofits and youth activists who are working to end gun violence in America.” The company is also doubling the match it donates when employees support organizations that get involved with the Fund. Most important, and this is a point which needs to be emphasized by anyone and everyone who supports the decision by Levi-Strauss, the company is going to partner with a new group of business leaders who want to reduce gun violence; it’s called the Everytown Business Leaders for Gun Safety, started by you-know-who.
Nobody on either side of the gun issue should underestimate the importance of this move. And the importance isn’t a function of the deep pockets of Mike Bloomberg, although that never hurts. What’s really important about this new campaign is that we finally have an effort to focus gun violence where it really belongs, namely, on the companies who create the 125,000 gun deaths and injuries each year because they make the guns.
I don’t know of another advocacy campaign aimed at reducing injuries from a consumer product in which the companies which make the product are so hidden from public view. And please don’t make the mistake of thinking for one minute that the 2nd Amendment is any kind of protective shield behind which gun manufacturers can hide. It’s not. Period. But again and again the gun-control movement tries to come up with policies and laws that regulate the behavior of gun owners while exempting the gun makers from greater scrutiny and regulatory review.
Recall the 1992 Presidential campaign slogan ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ Now replace the word ‘economy’ with the word ‘gun’ and you have the real importance of what Levi-Strauss plans to do.