Business

Walmart will stop selling some types of ammo, ask customers to not openly carry guns in store

Walmart says it will discontinue the sale of handgun ammunition and also publicly request that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms in stores even where state laws allow it.

Largest retailer in U.S. has faced pressure to change its gun policies in the wake of mass shootings

A heart-shaped balloon flies past the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman opened fire on shoppers on Aug. 3. The chain on Tuesday announced customers will be asked not to visibly carrying a firearm while in a store. (Luke E. Montavon/Bloomberg)

Walmart says 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.

The announcement comes just days after a mass shooting claimed seven lives in Odessa, Texas, and follows two other back-to-back shootings last month, one of them at a Walmart store.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounter said Tuesday it will stop selling handgun ammunition as well as short-barrel rifle ammunition, such as the .223 calibre and 5.56 calibre used in military-style weapons, after it runs out of its current inventory.

It will also discontinue handgun sales in Alaska. Walmart stopped selling handguns in the mid-1990s, with the exception of Alaska. The latest move marks its complete exit from that business and it will instead sell hunting rifles and related ammunition only.

"We have a long heritage as a company of serving responsible hunters and sportsmen and women, and we're going to continue doing so," said a memo by Walmart's CEO Doug McMillon, circulated to employees Tuesday afternoon.

Open carry

The retailer is further requesting that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms at its Walmart and Sam's Club stores unless they are law enforcement officers. However, it said that it won't be changing its policy for customers who have permits for concealed carry. Walmart says it will be adding signage in stores to inform customers of those changes.

Last month, a gunman entered a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people with an AK-style firearm that Walmart already bans the sale of, marking the deadliest shooting in the company's history. Texas became an open carry state in 2016, allowing people to openly carry firearms in public.

Walmart's moves will reduce its market share of ammunition from around 20 per cent to a range of about six to nine per cent, according to Tuesday's memo. About half of its more than 4,750 U.S. stores sell firearms.

A number of gun-control advocates praised Walmart's moves, while gun manufacturers, such as Vista Outdoors and Smith & Wesson parent company American Outdoor Brands Corp., saw their shares fall.

Other companies have responded to public pressure to restrict gun sales. Dick's Sporting Goods announced in March it would stop selling firearms and ammunition at 125 of its 700-plus locations. Kroger's said last year that it would stop selling firearms and ammunition at its Fred Meyer stores in the Pacific Northwest.

Kroger joined Walmart Tuesday in asking customers not to openly carry their guns when they visit its stores.

Other retailers, including Dick's Sporting Goods, have previously moved to abandon or scale back their sale of weapons. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

Walmart, the largest retailer in the U.S., has been facing increasing pressure to change its gun policies by gun control activists, employees and politicians after the El Paso shooting and a second unrelated shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine people . A few days before that, two Walmart workers were killed by another worker at a store in Southaven, Miss.

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 NRA.

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.

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.

Walmart and Kroger join a string of other retailers and restaurants, including Starbucks, Target and Wendy's in asking customers not to openly carry their guns when they visit their premises. But they are not enforcing an outright ban because they don't want to put their employees in confrontational situations.

Walmart says it hopes 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-rifles used in several mass shootings, urged more debate on the reauthorization of the assault weapons ban while also calling for the government to strengthen background checks.

Walmart said in sent letters Tuesday to the White House and the congressional leadership that call for action on these "common sense" measures.

Kroger said late Tuesday that it's joining those encouraging elected leaders to pass laws that will strengthen background checks and remove weapons from those who have been found to pose a risk for violence.

Over the last 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, Fla., that killed 17 people.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Walmart had moved to ban customers from openly carrying weapons in their stores. In fact, the chain is only "respectfully requesting" customers refrain.
    Sep 03, 2019 3:14 PM ET

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