Walmart says it will discontinue sales of ammunition for handguns and ammunition that can be used in military-style rifles, as well as publicly request that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms in its stores.
The retailer’s announcement came in the form of an open memo to store associates by CEO Doug McMillon, 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.
McMillon said Tuesday that the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company will stop selling handgun ammunition as well as “short-barrel rifle ammunition such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber” once current stocks are sold.
A company spokesperson told The Sentinel Tuesday evening that the policy will cover all firearm cartridges that can be used in military-type rifles.
“If it’s ammunition that could be used in a military-style rifle, we won’t carry it,” corporate spokesperson Delia Garcia said.
The 5.56x45 mm NATO cartridge and its civilian counterpart, the .223 Remington, are the most common type of ammunition fired by AR-15-style firearms.
Garcia said the ammunition discontinuation will also extend to other cartridges that are primarily used in military-type rifles. Examples include the 7.62x39 mm cartridge, used in AK-pattern firearms, as well as the .224 Valkyrie and .300 Blackout, which were designed as alternative chamberings for AR-15 rifles.
Walmart will also discontinue handgun sales in Alaska, marking its complete exit from handguns and allowing it to focus on 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,” McMillon said in his memo Tuesday afternoon.
Walmart is further requesting that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms at its stores unless they are law enforcement officers. Last month, a gunman entered a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, and killed 22 people using an AK-style firearm that Walmart already bans the sale of. 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% to a range of about 6% to 9%, according to Tuesday’s memo. About half of its more than 4,000 U.S. stores sell firearms.
Most firearms sales are done through thousands of unaffiliated gun shops or gun shows, not big retail chains.
A number of gun control activists 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, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, which announced in March it would stop selling firearms and ammunition at 125 of its 700-plus locations. But supporters of stricter gun laws say Walmart’s latest steps should have an outsized influence because of its clout, sending a strong message to Congress as well as other corporations.
“Walmart deserves enormous credit for joining the strong and growing majority of Americans who know that we have too many guns in our country and they are too easy to get,” said Igor Volsky, executive director and founder of Guns Down America, in a statement. “That work doesn’t end with Walmart’s decision today. As Congress comes back to consider gun violence, Walmart should make it clear that it stands with Americans who are demanding real change.”
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The National Rifle Association posted a tweet attacking Walmart’s announcement.
“It is shameful to see Walmart succumb to the pressure of the anti-gun elites. Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by lines at other retailers who are more supportive of America’s fundamental freedoms,” it said.
The nation’s largest retailer has been facing increasing pressure to change its gun policies by gun control activists, employees and politicians after the Aug. 3, 2019, El Paso shooting and another unrelated shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine people the next day.
A few days before that, two Walmart workers were killed by another worker at a store in Southaven, Mississippi.
The Dayton shooter used a short-barreled AR-15, legally considered a pistol, while the El Paso shooter used an AK-pattern rifle. Walmart stopped selling military-style rifles in 2015.
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.
Regarding its new policy on “open carry,” McMillon said in his memo “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 continued.
As such, Walmart will “respectfully request” that customers no longer openly carry firearms in stores, even in states where “open carry” is legally allowed.
Concealed carry by customers with permits will not be affected, nor will carry by law enforcement officers, and Walmart “will treat law-abiding customers with respect, and we will have a very nonconfrontational approach,” McMillon wrote.
Walmart says it hopes to use its weight to help other retailers by sharing its best practices like software that it uses for checking legal requirements on gun sales.
The company will “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,” and believes a re-authorization of the federal assault weapons ban “should be debated to determine its effectiveness,” McMillon wrote.
He also will send letters to the White House and 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 last 15 years, Walmart had expanded beyond its hunting and fishing roots, carrying items like military-type 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 rifles from its website. Those moves were prompted by the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.
In the mid-1990s, Walmart stopped selling handguns with the exception of Alaska. The retailer also doesn’t sell large-capacity magazines or bump stocks.