Walmart on Wednesday announced gun sale policy changes, including raising the age restriction for firearms and ammunition purchases to 21. The retailer doesn’t sell guns online, but is also removing items like non-lethal airsoft guns and toys resembling assault-style rifles from its website. It will also monitor third-party sellers on its marketplace over the issue, the company said in a message posted on its website.
The retail giant, the biggest seller of guns in the U.S. by many accounts, noted that in 2015 it ended sales of "modern sporting rifles, including the AR-15," the weapon used in the Parkland, FL high school shooting last month. The reasoning at the time was due to poor sales.
Walmart doesn’t sell handguns, except in Alaska, where the retailer said "we feel we should continue to offer them to our customers," nor does it sell bump stocks, high-capacity magazines or similar accessories. "Our heritage as a company has always been in serving sportsmen and hunters, and we will continue to do so in a responsible way," the company said.
Walmart's announcement builds on a growing trend of retailers self imposing gun control. Dick’s Sporting Goods early on Wednesday decided to end all sales of assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines and to raise its restriction of gun sales to people 21 or older. Kroger on Thursday also announced it would raise the minimum age to buy firearms and ammunition in its Fred Meyer stores (located in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington) to 21, The Wall Street Journal reports.
In Dick's case, one of its stores was among the retailers that sold arms to the teenager now in custody in Parkland. "Following all of the rules and laws, we sold a shotgun to the Parkland shooter in November of 2017," CEO Ed Stack wrote in an impassioned letter. "It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting. But it could have been. Clearly this indicates on so many levels that the systems in place are not effective to protect our kids and our citizens. We believe it’s time to do something about it."
Walmart said its new restrictions are being made "in light of recent events."
"We take seriously our obligation to be a responsible seller of firearms and go beyond Federal law by requiring customers to pass a background check before purchasing any firearm," according to the statement. "The law would allow the sale of a firearm if no response to a background check request has been received within three business days, but our policy prohibits the sale until an approval is given."
Despite Walmart's more succinct message, the decision itself was likely the result of serious consideration, according to retail prophet Doug Stephens, author of "Reengineering Retail: The Future of Selling in a Post-Digital World," who also said that at a time when the consequences of easy access to guns has permeated the news for days, Americans expect Walmart to take a stand. Although the retailer in the past has been loathe to weigh in on political or social issues tinged with cultural conflict — unlike companies like Patagonia — any fear of alienating customers in this case may have been outweighed by a more somber calculation.
"I suspect that this decision was not taken lightly and that Walmart felt the upside of long-term positive public opinion was ultimately worth whatever lost sales the decision might result in. As one of the world’s largest retailers, Walmart finds itself within a few degrees of just about every major social issue that arises," he told Retail Dive in an email. "Whether it’s human rights for workers, foreign factory safety or, as is the case now, firearm sales, the public very often looks to and expects Walmart to respond. As the nation’s number one seller of firearms, inaction by Walmart on this issue would be particularly conspicuous — especially with Dick’s Sporting Goods proactively taking a stand."