The nation’s top retailer, Walmart, is a bit of a red-state cultural symbol, in part because of its prominence in small-town America and in part thanks to its conservative business practices — including hostility to unions and an unwillingness to offer socialistic things like health insurance to many of its “associates,” i.e., its employees. The chain has always sold firearms and ammunition, though it stopped selling assault rifles and (except in Alaska) handguns in 2015. Now, after two fatal shootings at its stores — one in Mississippi in July and the deadlier and more notorious tragedy in El Paso in August — Walmart is further restricting its involvement in the guns-and-ammo trade, as CNN reports:
The company, America’s largest retailer, said it will stop selling handgun ammunition and ammunition commonly used in assault-style weapons after selling all of its current inventory. Walmart (WMT) will also stop selling handguns in Alaska, the only state where it still sells handguns. And Walmart will request that customers no longer openly carry guns into its 4,700 U.S. stores, or its Sam’s Club stores, in states that allow open carry.
“It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a memo to employees on Tuesday.
However, Walmart will continue to sell long-barrel deer rifles and shotguns and much of the ammunition for those guns. Walmart will also continue to allow concealed carry by customers with permits in its stores.
It’s in ammo sales that Walmart has been a really big contributor to the lethal-force industry, and that will change, to a degree, at least:
Walmart represents about 2 percent of the market for guns today, the company said for the first time recently. Walmart believes it is not among the top-three gun sellers in the industry, but it estimates it has about a 20 percent market share of ammunition sales.
On Tuesday, McMillon said that Walmart’s changes to ammunition policies will reduce its market share from around 20 percent to between 6 percent and 9 percent. “We believe it will likely drift toward the lower end of that range, over time, given the combination of these changes,” he said.
The memo in which Walmart announced these policy changes was jam-packed with “to be sure” language cushioning the blow to those customers who may think the company has gone all PC:
We know these decisions will inconvenience some of our customers, and we hope they will understand. As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same. Our remaining assortment will be even more focused on the needs of hunting and sport-shooting enthusiasts. It will include long-barrel deer rifles and shotguns, much of the ammunition they require, as well as hunting and sporting accessories and apparel …
As it relates to safety in our stores, there have been multiple incidents since El Paso where individuals attempting to make a statement and test our response have entered our stores carrying weapons in a way that frightened or concerned our associates and customers. We have also had well-intentioned customers acting lawfully that have inadvertently caused a store to be evacuated and local law enforcement to be called to respond. These incidents are concerning and we would like to avoid them, so we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer openly carry firearms into our stores or Sam’s Clubs in states where “open carry” is permitted — unless they are authorized law-enforcement officers.
McMillon made it clear that this “request” didn’t affect those legally carrying concealed weapons, and he hastened to add that the open-carry restriction would be enforced in a “nonconfrontational” way. Presumably, that means the greeters won’t grab your hand cannon while offering you a shopping cart.
In an equally cautious, “nonconfrontational” manner, the Walmart CEO is backing some changes in public policy as well:
[W]e encourage our nation’s leaders to move forward and strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger. We do not sell military-style rifles, and we believe the reauthorization of the assault-weapons ban should be debated to determine its effectiveness. We must also do more, as a country, to understand the root causes that lead to this type of violent behavior. Today, I’m sending letters to the White House and the Congressional leadership that call for action on these commonsense measures.
Since fixing the background-check system has massive public support (despite the success of the gun lobby in stopping it), this probably won’t hurt Walmart’s sales to that many MAGA folk. But it’s good to see this influential business moving in the direction of sanity and decency at a time when so many conservative lawmakers still think the key to reducing gun violence is to encourage the entire population to arm itself to the teeth.