Armed conflicts have occurred in ‘more than two‐thirds of the world’s biodiversity hotspots over the past six decades’, having implications on local wildlife populations and ecosystem health. The significance of the military’s environmental impacts are perhaps best highlighted by the fact that the US Department of Defence is the world’s single largest consumer of oil and, as a result, one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters and contributors to climate change.
What’s the problem?
The following case study is based on independent research by Ethical Consumer (2020). You can read the full reports here.
Historically, optics manufacturers have had close relationships with the military and firearms industry, including several of the companies that were originally part of weapon manufacturing companies e.g. Beretta and Vista Outdoor.
20 out of the 29 companies reviewed by Ethical Consumer (2020) supplied optics or other imaging equipment to the military directly or marketed their optic products for military or tactical use. Six of these companies did both.
Two companies had ethical policies about supplying to the military. Nikon verified that exported goods would not be used for the development of weapons of mass destruction or conventional weapons. Swarovski sold only observation optics to the military and did not develop custom products.
Leupold has been criticised for its military links, specifically its supply of sniper rifle scopes to the Israel Defense Forces. The Portland Trail Blazers basketball team ended a partnership with the company in 2019, after protests against Leupold by organisations such as the Portland Democratic Socialists of America, Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land, Portland’s Resistance and Jewish Voice For Peace.
Gun rights movement
Debates about the second amendment to the US Constitution (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) traditionally focus on the right to carry arms for “self-defense, prevention of tyranny, maintenance of the militia, or some combination of those three things”. But around half of American gun-owners own a gun foremost for hunting or sport shooting and it is, therefore, not surprising that some of the companies that market to hunters have links with the movement to protect gun rights in the US.
Beretta, Leupold and Vortex seemed to be deeply embedded in this world, where hunting is considered a pillar of the second amendment, together with protection of shooting rights and access to public land.
Likely the most known organisation lobbying against gun control laws in the US is the controversial National Rifle Association (NRA). Eight companies reviewed by Ethical Consumer (2020) had planned to have a booth at the (cancelled) 2020 industry exhibition that would have run alongside the NRA’s annual meeting. Three of these companies – Beretta, Leupold and Vista Outdoor – were “industry allies” of the organisation.
Beretta released a limited edition shotgun named Second Amendment 687 EELL Classic at the 2017 NRA annual meeting, to celebrate the second amendment and its supporters. Its Steiner brand used some imagery related to militia and white supremacy in its marketing.
Vista Outdoor has been the target of a consumer boycott over its refusal to participate in the debate on gun control and its close relationship with the NRA after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas highschool in Parkland, Florida in 2018, in which 17 people were killed and 17 more injured. Outdoor recreation retailer REI and its Canadian counterpart Mountain Equipment Co-op stopped carrying Vista Outdoor brands until the company sold its firearm brands, Savage Arms and Stevens, in 2019. Vista, however, is still an industry ally of the NRA and still produces ammunition.
What can I do?
If you wish to distance yourself from brands with links to the firearms industry, military or the gun rights movement, there are nine companies to shop with: Carson, Eschenbach, Bresser/Alpen, Nikon, Optical Hardware, Optical Vision, Vanguard, Viking and Visionking. Find out more.
You can also campaign for change by contacting companies and asking them to develop position statements on firearms and gun rights. Find contact details here.