Walmart (WMT) is proposing bold changes to its gun policy that will end sales of certain weapons, following a deadly mass shooting at one of its stores in El Paso, Texas, and an incident days earlier at another location in Southaven, Mississippi.
The retail giant will continue to cater to sportsmen and hunters, but plans to end the sale of certain types of ammunition. That includes exiting the handgun category completely, and asking shoppers not to openly carry firearms into its stores — even in open-carry states.
In a company-wide email, Walmart said it will discontinue sales of short-barrel rifle ammunition such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber. Those are commonly used in some hunting rifles, but can also be used in large capacity clips on military-style weapons.
In addition, Walmart said it will completely exit the handgun category by ending the sale of handgun ammunition. It will also end the sale of handguns in Alaska, the last remaining state where they had been available.
“We know these decisions will inconvenience some of our customers, and we hope they will understand. As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same,” CEO Doug McMillon wrote in an email.
“Our remaining assortment will be even more focused on the needs of hunting and sport shooting enthusiasts,” he added. “It will include long barrel deer rifles and shotguns, much of the ammunition they require, as well as hunting and sporting accessories and apparel.”
In the email, McMillon estimated that the new actions will reduce the company’s market share of ammunition, from around 20% to a range of 6% to 9%.
“We believe it will likely drift toward the lower end of that range, over time, given the combination of these changes,” he added.
Asks shoppers not to open carry
The CEO of the world’s largest retailer also “respectfully” requested that shoppers no longer openly carry firearms into the stores, even in states where the law permits them to do, so unless they are authorized law enforcement officers.
Since the El Paso shooting, McMillon noted that there have been “multiple incidents” of people trying to make a statement by testing the store’s response to openly carrying weapons. One instance inadvertently caused an evacuation.
“We believe the opportunity for someone to misinterpret a situation, even in open carry states, could lead to tragic results. We hope that everyone will understand the circumstances that led to this new policy and will respect the concerns of their fellow shoppers and our associates,” McMillon wrote.
Associates will be briefed on how to communicate this policy change to customers when needed.
“We will treat law-abiding customers with respect, and we will have a very non-confrontational approach. Our priority is your safety. We will be providing new signage to help communicate this policy in the coming weeks,” McMillon added.
The policy on concealed carry permits has not changed. McMillon said that Walmart plans to work with other retailers to share best practices around safer gun sales.
Walmart’s responds to gun violence
Amid a surge in gun violence, Walmart has been under increasing pressure to address its weapons sales policies. Walmart has made changes in recent years, including ending the sale of modern-sporting rifles, like the AR-15, in 2015. The retailer stopped selling handguns in 1993, except for in Alaska.
That has intensified since the Aug. 3 shooting of 22 people at an El Paso Walmart. Days earlier, in Southaven, Mississippi, a disgruntled Walmart employee, 39-year-old Martez Tarrell Abram, killed two store associates and injured a police officer.
In the aftermath of those attacks, Walmart, the world's largest retailer and nation's biggest private employer, has faced pressure to end the sale of firearms altogether. In an open letter to McMillon, New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin called on the CEO to use the company’s clout “to help fix a system that is clearly broken, to solve a crisis whose costs are measured in lives, not just in profits and losses.”
McMillon, who visited the El Paso store on Aug. 6, stated that the company would be “thoughtful and deliberate” in its response.
In 2006, Walmart began phasing out firearms sales across 1,000 locations, nearly one-third of its stores at the time. And just last year, Walmart raised the minimum age for purchase to 21, and also removed nonlethal airsoft guns and toys that resembled assault-style firearms from its website.
During the company’s second quarter earnings report last month, McMillon estimated that Walmart represents about 2% of the market for firearms and that the company is outside “at least the top three sellers in the industry.”
In 2008, Walmart and a coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns developed a 10-point plan to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands.
That proposal included the "video recording of sales, rigid controls on inventory, checks that gun purchasers are not misrepresenting themselves and the development of a first-of-its kind computerized crime gun trace log for retailers." Specifically, the log would flag customers who previously bought guns used in crimes.
While Walmart continues to be criticized for its role in the sale of firearms, the company's policy on sales is stricter than the current federal laws.
Walmart goes beyond federal guidelines by requiring customers to get a “green light” on a background check, while federal law only requires the absence of a “red light.”
Under The Brady Act, if the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) isn't resolved within three business days, the discretion is left to the Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) about whether or not to make a firearm transfer.
However, Walmart will not make the sale until the background check is complete.
On Tuesday, McMillon also said that he would send letters to Congress calling for “common sense measures” around guns.
“Finally, we 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,” the CEO said. “We must also do more, as a country, to understand the root causes that lead to this type of violent behavior.”
Julia La Roche is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.