Walmart, the US’ largest retailer, on Tuesday said that it would stop selling ammunition for handguns and some assault-style rifles in all its stores across the US, and called for action on gun safety after a string of mass shootings, including at Walmart stores in Texas and Mississippi.
Walmart also called for a strengthening of background checks for gun buyers and action to take guns out of the hands of those who pose a risk of violence, which was followed by an almost identical message from grocery operator Kroger.
Walmart and Kroger, which exited the firearms and ammunition business last year when its Fred Meyer unit stopped such sales, said that they are now asking customers not to carry guns into their stores, even when allowed by local laws.
The two retailers are among a growing number of US companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, that are responding to the debate over guns and gun safety as mass shootings have proliferated, risking backlash from powerful gun owners’ groups while elected leaders consider options.
“It’s clear to us that the ‘status quo’ is unacceptable,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a letter to employees. “As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same.”
Kroger, in a statement from corporate affairs vice president Jessica Adelman, spoke about “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.”
Kroger said that it was “joining those encouraging our elected leaders to pass laws” on background checks and keeping firearms out of the hands of those at risk for violence.
McMillon said that Walmart’s decision follows his visit to El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 6, three days after a gunman went on a rampage at a Walmart store there, killing 22 people.
McMillon described himself as a gun owner and said that company founder Sam Walton was “an avid outdoorsman who had a passion for quail hunting.”
Walmart is to stop selling handguns in Alaska, the only state where it still sells the firearms.
The halt on the ammunition and handgun sales is to go into effect when current inventory is sold out.
Kroger had sold guns in 43 of its Fred Meyer stores in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska before announcing in March last year that it would exit the firearms business.
The retailers’ latest moves sparked immediate reactions from organizations on both sides of the gun control debate.
“The tide is turning,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group.
The announcements “send a strong cultural signal that when lawmakers don’t protect their constituents, companies will protect their customers,” Watts said.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), a pro-gun group with deep political ties, said that Walmart was succumbing to pressure from “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.
It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Kroger move.
Walmart said that its latest actions would reduce its share of the ammunition market from about 20 percent to a range of about 6 to 9 percent, and would trend toward the lower end of that range over time.
US gun and ammunition stores last year had total sales of about US$11 billion, of which 19 percent was ammunition, market research firm IBISWorld data showed.
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