Walmart says it will stop selling handgun and short-barrel rifle ammunition, while requesting that customers not openly carry firearms in its stores, even where state laws allow it.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounter says it will stop selling handgun ammunition as well as short-barrel rifle ammunition, such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber used in military style weapons, after it runs out of its current inventory.
It will also discontinue handgun sales in Alaska. Walmart stopped selling handguns in the mid-1990s, with the exception of Alaska. The latest move marks its complete exit from that business and allows it to focus on hunting rifles and related ammunition only.
"In a complex situation lacking a simple solution, we are trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk that events like these will happen again," according to a memo by Walmart's CEO Doug McMillon circulated to employees Tuesday afternoon. "The status quo is unacceptable."
The retailer is further requesting that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms at its Walmart and Sam's Club stores unless they are law enforcement officers. However, it said that it won't be changing its policy for customers who have permits for concealed carry. Walmart says it will be adding signage in stores to inform customers of those changes.
About half of its more than 4,750 U.S. stores sell firearms, or around 2% of all U.S. firearms. Most firearms sales are done through thousands of unaffiliated gun shops or gun shows, not big retail chains.
A number of gun control activists praised Walmart's moves, while gun manufacturers such as Vista Outdoors and Smith & Wesson parent company American Outdoor Brands Corp. saw their shares fall.
Other companies have responded to public pressure to restrict gun sales. Dick's Sporting Goods announced in March it would stop selling firearms and ammunition at 125 of its 700-plus locations. Kroger's said last year that it would stop selling firearms and ammunition at its Fred Meyer stores in the Pacific Northwest. Kroger joined Walmart Tuesday in asking customers not to openly carry their guns when they visit its stores.
But supporters of stricter gun laws say Walmart's latest steps should have an outsized influence because of its clout, sending a strong message to Congress as well as other corporations.
"Walmart deserves enormous credit for joining the strong and growing majority of Americans who know that we have too many guns in our country and they are too easy to get," said Igor Volsky, executive director and founder of Guns Down America, in a statement. "That work doesn't end with Walmart's decision today. As Congress comes back to consider gun violence, Walmart should make it clear that it stands with Americans who are demanding real change."
The National Rifle Association posted a tweet attacking Walmart's announcement.
"It is shameful to see Walmart succumb to the pressure of the anti-gun elites. Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by lines at other retailers who are more supportive of America's fundamental freedoms," it said.
The nation's largest retailer has been facing increasing pressure to change its gun policies by gun control activists, employees and politicians after the El Paso shooting and a second unrelated shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine people . A few days before that, two Walmart workers were killed by another worker at a store in Southaven, Mississippi.
With its new policy on "open carry," McMillon noted in his memo that individuals have tried to make a statement by carrying weapons into its stores just to frighten workers and customers. But there are well-intentioned customers acting lawfully who have also inadvertently caused a store to be evacuated and local law enforcement to be called to respond.
Walmart and Kroger joins a string of other retailers and restaurants including Starbucks, Target and Wendy's in asking customers not to openly carry their guns when they visit their premises. But they are not enforcing an outright ban because they don't want to put their employees in confrontational situations.
Walmart says it hopes to help other retailers by sharing its best practices in background checks. And the company, which in 2015 stopped selling assault rifles like the AR-rifles used in several mass shootings, urged more debate on the reauthorization of the assault weapons ban while also calling for the government to strengthen background checks. Walmart said it sent letters Tuesday to the White House and the congressional leadership that call for action on these "common sense" measures.