Days after a mass shooting in Odessa, Texas, and weeks after back-to-back shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Walmart announced it will discontinue the sale of handgun and short-barrel rifle ammunition and also publicly request that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms in stores, even where state laws allow it.
That may have pleased some advocates of gun reform, but it didn’t impress Jeremy Ball, general manager of Spokane’s Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop. He said the company’s decision is not going to stop anyone from buying ammunition.
“There will be a void in the marketplace, and someone will step into it,” Ball said. “People are going to buy ammunition regardless of whether Walmart sells it. There’s not one person in this country that will stop shooting guns because Walmart decided that they weren’t going to sell ammo.”
But Ball said the decision could have ramifications for those who sell firearms.
“There are probably people in this country that will stop going to Walmart,” Ball said.
And if they do, he said he hoped Walmart’s decision would encourage people to shop locally, at stores like his.
In a memo distributed to employees on Tuesday, Walmart acknowledged its changes would affect its bottom line, reducing its market share of ammunition from around 20% to a range of about 6% to 9%. About half of its more than 4,000 U.S. stores sell firearms, though the company has banned the sale of AK-style weapons.
During one of last month’s mass shootings, a gunman entered a Walmart store in El Paso and killed 22 people. A few days before that, two Walmart workers were killed by another worker at a store in Southaven, Mississippi.
The nation’s largest retailer has been facing increasing pressure from gun control activists, employees and politicians to change its gun policies since the recent spate of mass shootings.
The retailer has long found itself in an awkward spot with its customers and gun enthusiasts. Many of its stores are located in rural areas where hunters depend on Walmart to get their equipment. Walmart is trying to walk a fine line by trying to embrace its hunting heritage while being a more responsible retailer.
One of those customers who objected to the retailer’s decision was Frederick Messemer, a Spokane Valley resident who was at the Walmart on East Sprague Avenue on Tuesday. He said he was disappointed with Walmart’s decision, calling it the “path of least resistance.”
“What you’re doing now is handcuffing the citizens from protecting themselves,” said Messemer.
Meanwhile, Messemer said, he’s concerned that criminals will still be able to obtain firearms.
In a memo circulated to employees Tuesday afternoon, Walmar CEO Doug McMillon said the company’s decision had to do less with criminals and self-defense and more with hunting.
“We have a long heritage as a company of serving responsible hunters and sportsmen and women, and we’re going to continue doing so,” McMillon said.
In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, Walmart ordered workers to remove video game signs and displays that depict violence from stores nationwide. But that fell well short of demands for the retailer to stop selling firearms entirely. Critics have also wanted Walmart to stop supporting politicians backed by the National Rifle Association.
With its new policy on “open carry,” McMillon noted in his memo that individuals have tried to make a statement by carrying weapons into its stores just to frighten workers and customers. But there are well-intentioned customers acting lawfully who have also inadvertently caused a store to be evacuated and local law enforcement to be called to respond.
He said Walmart will continue to treat “law-abiding customers with respect” and it will have a “non-confrontational approach.”
Walmart says it hopes to use its weight to help other retailers by sharing its best practices like software that it uses for background checks. And the company, which in 2015 stopped selling assault rifles like the AR-style rifles used in several mass shootings, urged more debate on the reauthorization of the assault weapons ban. McMillon said Walmart will send letters to the White House and the Congressional leadership that call for action on these “common sense” measures.
“In a complex situation lacking a simple solution, we are trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk that events like these will happen again,” McMillon wrote in his memo. “The status quo is unacceptable.”
Over the past 15 years, Walmart had expanded beyond its hunting and fishing roots, carrying items like assault rifles in response to increasing demand. But particularly since 2015, often coinciding with major public mass shootings, the company has made moves to curb the sale of ammunition and guns.
Walmart announced in February 2018 that it would no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21 and also removed items resembling assault-style rifles from its website. Those moves were prompted by the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.
In 2015, Walmart stopped selling semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 style rifle, the type used in the Dayton shooting. The retailer also doesn’t sell large-capacity magazines, handguns (except in Alaska) or bump stocks, nor the AK-style firearm that was used by the El Paso shooter.
Joseph Foxworth, a Spokane Valley resident who was also at the Walmart on Sprague Avenue, pointed out that it’s up to Walmart to decide what it will sell.
“I get that Walmart is almost everywhere and you can go to Walmart and get almost anything, but that doesn’t mean that you should be able to control what they sell and what they don’t sell,” Foxworth said. “The company decides what they sell.”
Foxworth, like Ball, pointed out that people could go elsewhere to buy ammunition, and said he understood why Walmart made the decision.
“I kind of see it as a proper precaution,” Foxworth said. “There’s nothing wrong with them deciding that that’s not OK.”
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