In a decision tinged with politics yet supposedly based solely on customer demand, Wal-Mart has announced that it will stop selling semi-automatic rifles including the AR-15. The news comes a day after a graphic shooting in Virginia on live television.
Presently, the company sells such weapons in about one-third of its 4,600 stores. Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg claimed that, “[The decision] is done solely on what customer demand was. We are instead focusing on hunting and sportsman firearms.”
Despite Wal-Mart’s statements, some analysts believe that the mega-company must be taking into consideration public opinion of gun use across the nation. Semi-automatic rifles have been used in a number of recent shootings including the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
Retail consultant Burt Flicking believes that Wal-Mart’s move likely is a result of public opinion since the sales of ammunition and guns remains very solid in the United States. He opined that, “It shows that the Wal-Mart of this decade is quite different from the prior four decades.”
Michael Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation also pointed out that demand for semi-automatic rifles continues to remain strong. He proffered that, “Modern Sporting Rifles are extremely popular with an estimated 10 million of them in the hands of Americans since 1990. Wal-Mart’s decision was based on what its management sees as best for their business.”
Despite the sentiments, Wal-Mart is sticking to its story. Lundberg stressed that the decision was not political and that, “It’s similar to what we do with any product. Being what it is, it gets a little more attention, but it’s the same process for any other product. . . We wanted to make sure when customers are coming and looking to purchase [popular shotguns and rifles], they see the products they want. We see more business from hunters and people shooting clay.”
Some analysts believe that Wal-Mart is telling the truth. Jason Maloni, a crisis communications expert, pointed out that, “Big retailers don’t make decisions on a whim, and it would appear that they are responding to their market. This seems to be a strategic decision of Wal-Mart to address customer desires.”
Whatever the real reason Wal-Mart has decided to stop selling semi-automatic weapons, it is clear that the company has come under pressure to do so in recent times. Shareholders, including Trinity Church on Wall Street, have pushed the company to reduce or hopefully eliminate the sale of guns. The church recently filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart after the company chose not to hold a shareholder vote on a proposal for the board of directors to review policies on the sale of products that could “endanger public safety and well-being” or hurt the company’s reputation. Ultimately, a United States District Court ruled that the shareholders do not have to consider the proposal if they do not wish to do so.
The Reverend William Lupfer, rector of Trinity Church, released a statement Wednesday that the church was “pleased to hear Wal-Mart will no longer sell the kinds of weapons that have caused such devastation and loss in communities across our country. We continue to believe that corporate boards have the responsibility to oversee the creation of policies that will guide decision making on marketing and other issues that could have momentous impact on the safety and well-being of society and to shareholder value.”