As politicians like Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have shown no appetite to buck their NRA donors by banning assault rifles after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre last month, activists have turned the pressure on corporate America instead. It's worked: Dick's has stopped selling the weapons, and major firms such as Delta have ditched the NRA.
Now activists have turned their sights on a college official in Miami who sits on the board of directors of one of America's largest manufacturers of assault weapons. In fact, American Outdoor Brands is the parent company of Smith & Wesson, which made the AR-15 that Nikolas Cruz used in the Parkland mass shooting.
More than 140 people have now signed an online petition demanding that Anita Britt, the chief financial and administrative officer at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, resign from American Outdoor Brands' board.
"We urge you to end your association with a company that profits from making and selling the AR-15 style rifles used in numerous school shootings and mass shootings across America," the petition reads.
But St. Thomas says it stands behind Britt's position with the gun company.
“At St. Thomas University, we believe that our community and our world can be a better place. We believe Ms. Britt’s position with American Outdoor Brands provides her the opportunity to participate in helping the company achieve its objectives of making our communities safer and that her role with the company does not conflict with her responsibilities here at St. Thomas," says Marlen Lebish, a spokesperson for the school. "Ms. Britt’s contributions to our organization are noteworthy, and we look forward to her continued participation in our leadership.”
Ironically, Smith & Wesson was once at the forefront of a campaign to curb mass shootings and gun deaths. In 2000, it signed a pledge to stop making guns that accepted high-capacity magazines and cut ties with irresponsible gun dealers in exchange for states' dropping a backlog of lawsuits against the company over gun deaths.
But then, as QZ recounts, the NRA mounted a huge campaign, essentially painting the company — then owned by a British firm — as traitors. Its CEO was bombarded with violent death threats, and eventually the company backed down and began selling AR-15s.
Those weapons have now been used in multiple mass killings, including the 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people were massacred, and now the Parkland tragedy.
Britt is a newcomer to the firm. She spent more than 20 years in the "consumer products industry," according to her company bio, including a recent stint as chief financial officer of Perry Ellis International Inc. She joined American Outdoor Brands' board of directors February 5 — barely a week before Cruz used one of the company's guns to murder 17 people.
Britt's move to St. Thomas' administration is also recent. She was appointed chief financial and administrative officer January 1 after serving five years on the board of trustees at the school, which has just under 5,000 students at its Miami Gardens campus.
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Signers on the petition say Britt's role at a school is incompatible with serving on the board of a major assault-weapons manufacturer, especially as Parkland survivors organize the March for Our Lives and the #NeverAgain movement.
"In light of the recent tragedy in our own backyard, I believe St. Thomas University should stand in solidarity with the victims of these senseless shootings," Julian Montoya from Weston writes. "Given that Anita Britt is on the board of directors of American Outdoor Brands, I sign this petition with the hope that [she] resigns."
Adds Elizabeth Falcon of Tuscon: "Please stop the cycle of violence! Please show that you stand with students begging not to be victims!
This post has been updated with comments from St. Thomas University.