Walmart took a bold step earlier this week when it announced it would no longer sell assault-style rifles in its U.S. stores. It was the right move in spite of the potential backlash the company could face from gun rights advocates. As the country's largest retailer of guns and ammunition, Walmart's decision should result in fewer rifles on the streets and in the hands of irresponsible gun owners.
Walmart said on Wednesday that it would stop selling modern sporting rifles, the high-powered weapons that are similar to the AR-15 assault rifles that have been used in several mass shootings in recent years. The retailer said it acted in response to declining demand for the weapons and plans to remove them from approximately 4,600 stores within the next two weeks as it restocks its stores in preparation for fall, according to the New York Times. Instead of high-powered rifles, Walmart plans to shore up its inventory of shotguns and other weapons that are popular among hunters and sportsmen.
Though unrelated, Walmart's announcement came on the same day a disgruntled former journalist shot and killed two of his former colleagues in Virginia, wounded an interview subject and later took his own life. Although the shooter did not use a rifle in the attacks, the killings on live television have reignited the country's roiling debate about gun control and the Second Amendment. Walmart's decision to suspend rifle sales also follows years of political pressure by gun control lobbyists in the wake of several mass shootings, including the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the 2012 murders at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and the June attack of worshipers at a historic Charleston, S.C., church.
Walmart has been taking a number of admirable stances recently on social justice issues ranging from supporting same-sex marriage to its February decision to raise its workers' wages to $10 an hour within a year, a move that was followed by a host of smaller retailers. The company, one of the world's largest retailers, has the ability to greatly influence American culture, economics and employment and should be commended for taking just stands on important issues, especially its smarter approach to gun sales, which could save lives.
Studies show that active shooting situations, in which a person is killing or attempting to kill people in a confined area, are happening with increasing frequency. Despite the uptick in these kinds of crimes, efforts to strengthen gun control laws have repeatedly failed, falling victim to a powerful pro-gun lobby. In deciding to back away from rifle sales, Walmart is using its very powerful perch to provide a refreshing relief valve that should help keep rifles that are more appropriate for war zones out of stores and off city streets. Other retailers should follow suit.