This Gun’s Not For Hire

Sorry, gun purchasers, but General Electric no longer intends to offer financing services to gun sellers. 

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, (a tragedy that we wrote about as the event broke last December) were an important factor in this shift. GE is based in Fairfield, Connecticut, “and many of GE’s employees live around Newtown, and several have children in the Sandy Hook elementary school, where the shootings took place,” the Journal reported. Among its employees is the father of the school gunman.

GE spokesman Russell Wilkerson told the Journal that GE Capital had changed its policy because of “industry changes, new legislation and tragic events.” The newspaper noted that GE’s ban applies to fewer than 75 retailers, and even Wilkerson called gun financing an “insignificant and immaterial” part of GE’s business. (The new policy does not apply to stores such as Wal-Mart, which sell guns alongside a wide range of other products.)

Still, the Journal said, “GE’s withdrawal has symbolic significance, as well as real consequences for the companies that used the service.”

Peter Drucker may well have seen in this gesture a reliance on symbolism over all else, something he considered to be characteristic of American life. “Reality is created by manipulating symbols,” Drucker lamented in Adventures of a Bystander. “History is made by staging ‘media events.’”

A Pennsylvania gun shop. Photo credit: opacity
A Pennsylvania gun shop. Photo credit: opacity

But he may also have seen GE’s move as illustrative of two other, more substantial, ideas. The first is that an organization exists within society and is therefore part of it. “It has to be in a community, has to be a neighbor, has to do its work within a social setting,” Drucker observed in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices.

The second idea is that a business should try to stop doing anything that has a negative effect on people. “Impacts on society, the economy, the community and the individual that are not in themselves the purpose and mission of the institution should be kept to the minimum and should preferably be eliminated altogether,” Drucker wrote. “Wherever an impact can be eliminated by dropping the activity that causes it, this is therefore the best—indeed, the only truly good—solution.”

As we’ve noted, Drucker felt this second idea could be summed up simply by the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm: primum non nocere. Drucker admitted that such an oath has little allure or flash. “But, as the physicians found out ago,” he asserted, “it is not an easy rule to live up to.”

What do you think? Was GE right to get out of gun financing? Why or why not?