A year and a half after responding to the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., Walmart and The Kroger Co. are again acting to restrict firearms in the wake of killing sprees by gunmen last month and this past weekend.
Walmart said this week that it will end sales of handguns in Alaska and, chainwide, discontinue sales of handgun ammunition and sales of short-barrel rifle ammunition that can also be used in large-capacity clips on military-style weapons. The elimination of handgun sales in Alaska will mark Walmart’s “complete exit” from the handgun market, the company noted, adding that the ammunition sales will cease after current inventory is sold.
“We’ve been giving a lot of thought to our sale of firearms and ammunition. We’ve previously made decisions to stop selling handguns or military-style rifles such as the AR-15; to raise the age limit to purchase a firearm or ammunition to 21, to require a ‘green light’ on a background check while federal law only requires the absence of a ‘red light’; to videotape the point of sale for firearms; and to only allow certain trained associates to sell firearms,” Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon said Tuesday. “Today, we’re sharing the decisions we’ve made that go further.”
Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart expects the changes to reduce its ammunition market share from roughly 20% to between 6% and 9%. “We believe it will likely drift toward the lower end of that range over time,” McMillon added.
The move follows a series of shootings in recent weeks. On Aug. 3, a gunman with an assault-style rifle shot 48 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22. Less than 24 hours later, on Aug. 4, a shooter at a popular nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people and wounded 27 others. Then on Aug. 31, a gunman in a vehicle being chased by police in Midland and Odessa, Texas, killed seven people and shot 25 others, including three police officers.
And just before the El Paso shooting, on July 31, a disgruntled Walmart employee at the retailer’s store in Southaven, Miss., shot and killed two other associates and wounded a responding police officer.
“We know these decisions will inconvenience some of our customers, and we hope they will understand,” McMillon said. “As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same.”
Also to promote a safer environment, Walmart is now asking customers to no longer openly carry firearms into its stores, including Sam’s Club locations. The company isn’t changing its policy for concealed carries for customers with gun permits.
On Aug. 8, just days after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, a man walked into a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Springfield, Mo., wearing body armor and carrying a loaded rifle plus 100 rounds of ammunition. In his statement to police, the suspect said he wanted to see how people would react and if “Walmart honored the Second Amendment.”
“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,” McMillon explained. “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.”
The latest shootings also led Cincinnati-based Kroger this week to request that customers not openly carry firearms in its stores.
“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,” Jessica Adelman, group vice president of corporate affairs at Kroger, said in a statement.
“As America’s grocer, providing our associates and customers with a safe place to work and shop will remain our highest priority,” she added.
In March 2018, both Kroger and Walmart raised the age to buy guns and ammunition to 21 after a 19-year-old man killed 17 students and faculty in a shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the previous month. At the time, Kroger sold guns at 43 of its 122 Fred Meyer stores in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The company has since phased out gun and ammunition sales at Fred Meyer, the only one of its retail banners that sold firearms. In October 2018, two people were killed by a gunman in a Kroger Marketplace store in Jeffersontown, Ky.
“A year ago, Kroger made the conscious decision to completely exit the firearm and ammunition business when we stopped selling them in our Fred Meyer stores in the Pacific Northwest,” said Adelman. “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 commonsense gun reforms.”
In its announcement this week, Walmart also said it will work with other retailers to improve customer safety and promote best practices in firearm sales.
“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,” McMillon said. “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.”