Walmart said Monday it will not stop selling firearms or change its open carry policies, even as advocacy groups and workers voiced concerns about shootings at two of its stores that killed 24 people in the past week.
“There has been no change in company policy,” spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an interview. “With this incident just having happened over the weekend, our focus has been on supporting associates, customer and the El Paso community.”
A man with an assault rifle opened fire Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 20 people and injuring more than two dozen others. Two more people died Monday, authorities said. Days earlier, a Walmart employee in Southaven, Miss., fatally shot two co-workers.
“The entire Walmart community is heartbroken,” chief executive Doug McMillon wrote on Instagram in response to the shootings. “I can’t believe I’m sending a note like this twice in one week.”
The retail giant sells guns in about half of its 4,750 U.S. stores, making it one of the nation’s largest sellers of firearms and ammunition. It requires store employees to undergo active shooter training every three months, and allows shoppers to carry firearms openly in cities and states where it is legal.
“We follow all federal, state and local regulations,” Hargrove said. And, he added, “you’re not going to see associates who are armed during their shifts.”
Walmart, which has been selling guns for decades, has gradually tightened its gun policies in recent years. It stopped selling assault-style rifles in 2015 and said it would focus instead on firearms for hunting and sports. Last year, it raised the minimum age for gun and ammunition purchases from 18 to 21, two weeks after a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students and teachers dead.
A number of other high-profile retailers took similar action at the time, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, which had sold a shotgun to the accused Florida shooter. The company stopped selling assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines at its Field & Stream stores, and called on lawmakers to enact “common sense gun reform.”
“A number of people have said to me that this had to be a really hard decision,” Dick’s chief executive Edward Stack told The Washington Post in May. “It was not.”
Now advocacy groups and workers say Walmart should do more to curb gun violence. Guns Down America, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control policies, is calling on Walmart to stop selling firearms and to offer gun buybacks to its customers. It also wants the retailer to stop making political contributions to politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association, such as Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Richard Burr, R-N.C.
“Walmart has a history of moving in the right direction, but what happened in El Paso shows they need to go further,” executive director Igor Volsky, said. “Walmart has such a big footprint that it could make a big difference if wants to.”
Erin Rivkind, who works at the customer service desk at a Walmart in La Habra, Calif., said she and her colleagues have been rattled by the recent shootings. The store where she works sells BB guns and ammunition – though she wishes it didn’t.
“A lot of us are on edge,” the 48-year-old said. “It’s sad, but I’m looking around the store, thinking, where can I hide if something happens? We’re all afraid we’re going to die.”
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Abha Bhattarai