Gun violence in the United States continues on as a troubling problem with no end in sight. On Aug. 31, yet another shooting in Texas left seven more dead without a national solution to follow. But while legislators shuffle their feet, one of the nation's biggest retailers has made a surprising move of its own, with the announcement that Walmart will restrict selling guns and ammunition. That's a change.
Just one month after a mass shooting in an El Paso Walmart on Aug. 3, the company's CEO Doug McMillon announced in a press release on Sept. 3 that Walmart will be restricting the sales of guns and ammunition. After the El Paso shooting, Walmart released a short statement expressing “shock over the tragic events” and later donated $400,000 to support local victims. Small efforts notwithstanding, pressure against Walmart grew to take more action: In a petition with almost 150,000 signatures, employees began calling upon Walmart to stop selling guns, while outside organizations and demanded change.
Now, the retail giant is taking some steps to turn words into action. McMillon wrote in the press release that Walmart has been “listening to a lot of people inside and outside our company as we think about the role we can play in helping to make the country safer. It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable.”
Walmart will discontinue the sale of short-barrel rifle ammunition that can be used on military-style weapons, McMillon said. It will also stop selling handguns, which it only sells in Alaska, and handgun ammunition altogether. By doing so, McMillon wrote, the company hopes to focus on its hunting and sport shooting customer base. The move will reduce the retailer's national market share of ammunition from 20% to between 6% and 9%, per the press release.
The press release also discouraged customers from carrying firearms into stores, even in “open carry” states. McMillon said he will send letters to the White House and government leaders to enforce stronger background checks. He wrote,
Finally, we 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.
It's not the first move the retailer has made to address gun safety. In the past, Walmart has raised the age limit to purchase firearms or ammunition to 21, required a “green light” on background checks, and began videotaping firearm sales, according to Forbes. In 2015, it banned the sale of military-style rifles, such as the "AR-15 type" weapon which is frequently used in mass shootings.
While Walmart has taken action before, the issue of gun violence is perhaps hitting closer to home than ever before. On Aug. 3, a gunman in a crowded Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killed 22 people, in one of two back-to-back shootings — it was followed by an Aug. 4 shooting in Dayton, Ohio, which killed nine — which horrified a nation grown used to gun violence. Nor were they the only shootings in August. On Aug. 31, a shooter in Odessa, Texas wounded 22 and killed seven people.
Fifty-three people have been victims of mass shootings in America in August alone, per The New York Times. Walmart’s press release, however, comes days after Texas implemented looser regulations, including those that now allow licensed gun owners to carry firearms in places of worship and store them in foster homes or in locked cars on school parking lots.
Following the Odessa shooting, lawmakers went through the now painful routines of rallying for more restrictive gun legislation. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib referred to the shootings as a “public health crisis,” while others called on Congress and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass national gun legislation. Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association called it “shameful” for Walmart to “succumb to the pressure of the anti-gun elites.”
Congress remains in recess, so a legislative response to the latest shooting — if any — definitely won't be immediate. Walmart's announcement has people hoping that, if not politicians, outspoken companies may be first to take a stand on gun control. Unfortunately, no matter how powerful, even the biggest of corporations are not the ones who can enact national change, and on that end, things have remained silent.