Retailers Revise Gun Policies in Wake of Shootings

'Status quo is unacceptable,' Walmart CEO Doug McMillon says
Photograph: Shutterstock

In the aftermath of a wave of deadly public shootings, including two at Walmart stores last month, retailers such as Walmart and The Kroger Co. are breaking with longtime practices and asking customers to no longer carry firearms in stores in states where open carry is permitted.

Both companies also said they would urge lawmakers to pass expanded background check legislation and adopt other “common sense” measures that could keep weapons from those who pose a risk for violent acts, as well as urge them to better understand the root causes leading to violent behavior.

Walmart said it would also further restrict certain gun and ammunition sales in stores.

The announcements—which in Walmart’s case was slammed by the National Rifle Association—come as a signal that consumers and businesses have grown tired of inaction in Washington regarding the spate of gun violence that has become more common in recent years.

Last month in El Paso, Texas, a gunman with an assault-style rifle launched an attack in a Walmart store, shooting 48 people and killing 22. Just a few days prior, two Walmart associates were killed by another associate in a Walmart store in Southaven, Miss. Those events marked at least 13 active-shooter events at food retail stores since 2007, including six at Walmart stores, according to FBI records. They were followed by mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and another in Midland and Odessa, Texas.

In announcing the new policies in a memo shared with the retailer’s employees and published online, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the “status quo was unacceptable.”

Specifically, he said Walmart would sell through and then discontinue sales of short-barrel rifle ammunition such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber that, while commonly used in some hunting rifles, can also be used in large capacity clips on military-style weapons. The company will also sell through and discontinue sales of handgun ammunition, and it will discontinue handgun sales in Alaska, the only state where Walmart had continued to sell handguns following earlier weapon sales restrictions.

walmart gun policy

Photograph courtesy of Walmart

The new policies go beyond the 2018 adoption of the 10-point “Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership” created by Walmart and the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (now known as Everytown for Gun Safety). That movement introduced video recording of sales, rigid controls on inventory, checks that gun purchasers are not misrepresenting themselves and the development of a computerized crime gun trace log for retailers.

McMillon said the new policies would reduce Walmart’s share of U.S. ammunition sales from about 20% to a range of 6% to 9%. “We believe it will likely drift toward the lower end of that range, over time, given the combination of these changes,” McMillon said.

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,” McMillon said. “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.”

McMillon said Walmart was also moved to respond to a series of incidents since El Paso in which individuals attempting to make a statement and test the retailer’s response entered its 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 said.

Retailers including Walmart have previously responded to pressures to restrict open carry by saying it would comply with state and local laws. Kroger’s previous stance on this topic had been the target of an aggressive campaign from the gun-safety advocacy group Moms Demand Action. Moms Demand Action, which has since aligned with Everytown for Gun Safety, applauded Kroger this week for announcing the change to its open-carry policies.

It was not immediately clear how the retailers would enforce the change to open carry policy. Walmart said it would adopt a “non-confrontational” approach and that it would shortly communicate the policy with signs in stores.

In an email message to WGB, Jessica Adelman, Kroger’s VP of corporate affairs, said, “We’ll be working with our peers across the industry to formulate best practices, which we will communicate to our store teams.”

In the wake of the Parkland shootings in Florida a year ago, Kroger stopped selling guns and ammunition at its Fred Meyer stores, the only one of its banners that sold them. “Kroger has demonstrated with our actions that we recognize the growing chorus of Americans who are no longer comfortable with the status quo and who are advocating for concrete and common sense gun reforms,” the company said in a statement.

“Kroger is respectfully asking that customers no longer openly carry firearms into our stores, other than authorized law enforcement officers. We are also joining those encouraging our 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,” the statement continued. “Our Kroger purpose is to Feed the Human Spirit and, as America’s grocer, providing our associates and customers with a safe place to work and shop will remain our highest priority.”

Two Kroger shoppers were killed by a gunman in 2018 in at a Kroger Marketplace store in Jeffersontown, Ky.

“We believe the opportunity for someone to misinterpret a situation, even in open carry states, could lead to tragic results,” McMillon said. “We hope that everyone will understand the circumstances that led to this new policy and will respect the concerns of their fellow shoppers and our associates.”

McMillon also offered Walmart’s help to other retailers—saying it would share its compliance controls with other stores that also sell weapons, for example.

“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. “Our founder, Sam Walton, was an avid outdoorsman who had a passion for quail hunting, and we’re headquartered in a state known for its duck hunting and deer hunting. My family raised bird dogs when I was growing up in Jonesboro, Ark., and I’m a gun owner myself. We understand that heritage, our deeply rooted place in America and our influence as the world’s largest retailer. And we understand the responsibility that comes with it.

“We want what’s best for our customers, our associates and our communities. 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. The status quo is unacceptable.


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