This editorial orginally ran in The Washington Post.
The spark for Walmart’s action is terrible: deadly shootings at two of its stores this summer, with 24 people slaughtered. Nonetheless, the giant retailer’s realization that “the status quo is unacceptable” should be applauded.
Walmart will change its gun policies, ending the sale of ammunition that can be used in military-style assault rifles. By acknowledging it has a role in helping to make the country safer, Walmart hopefully sets an example that other companies — not to mention Congress — will follow.
Walmart last week waded full-stream into the national gun debate with its unexpected announcement that it will no longer sell certain kinds of ammunition, will completely end the sale of handguns and will prohibit customers from openly carrying guns in its stores, even where doing so is permitted by law. Walmart already had stopped selling assault-style weapons and had imposed age limits and background checks on gun sales that were stricter than federal law.
Last week’s announcement — notably its call to Congress to increase background checks and consider a new ban on assault weapons — showed a bold willingness to take a lead on this fraught issue. That Kroger quickly joined Walmart in asking customers not to openly carry guns in its stores and also called for stricter background checks underscored the importance of the country’s largest employer paving the way.
Walmart’s stance is in keeping with public opinion polls that consistently show widespread support for sensible gun-control measures. The gun-control movement tragically gathers new support and strength each time there is a mass shooting that affects yet another community.
Walmart chief executive Doug McMillon said the company’s new policies were based on weeks of research and discussions that followed the July shooting at a Walmart in Mississippi in which two people were killed and the August massacre at a store in El Paso, Texas, in which 22 people were killed.
“It is extremely hard not to take action when people are dying at one of your stores,” an executive of a nonprofit that advocates social responsibility in business told the New York Times.
No doubt, as some critics have pointed out, Walmart’s evolution on gun sales might be tied to other motives, such as new emphasis in building online markets in East and West Coast cities and suburbs where gun sales are not key and the clientele is more liberal. But if, indeed, Walmart has determined that guns and the violence that accompanies them are bad for business, so much the better. We hope Republicans in Congress who refuse to wake up to the need for gun reform find their stance is bad for business, too.