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Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, faced with calls from anti-gun activist groups asking for the retailer to stop selling guns, said on social media yesterday that the company will be “thoughtful and deliberate” in its decision-making process.

The demands from activists in the wake of the killing of 22 people in one of Walmart’s stores in El Paso, Texas, carried out by what is being described as a white nationalist domestic terrorist. The El Paso shootings actually were the third gun-related incident at a Walmart in recent weeks, with other shootings taking place in Auburn, Maine, and Southaven, Mississippi.

As McMillon posted his comments, word came about another gun-related incident at a Walmart. The New York Post reported that “an innocent bystander was wounded during a shootout at a Walmart store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana … East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux told reporters at the scene Tuesday that one of the shooters was in custody and the other at large.”

In his social media posting, McMillon wrote, in part:

“As it becomes clear that the shooting in El Paso was motivated by hate, we’re more resolved than ever to foster an inclusive environment where all people are valued and welcomed. Our store in El Paso is well known as a tight-knit community hub, where we serve customers from both sides of the border. I continue to be amazed at the strength and resilience we find in the diversity of communities where we live and work.

“We’re a learning organization, and we’ll work to understand the many important issues arising from El Paso and Southaven as well as those raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence. We’ll be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses, and will act in a way that reflects our best values and ideals, focused on the needs of our customers, associates and communities.”

And, McMillon wrote, “When the worst happens, we counter with our best selves. We support each other, pray, stand firm and heal together. We’re proud to be woven into the American fabric as a place for all people, a community gathering place.”

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, a Walmart spokesperson said that there were no plans to change the retailer’s policies on gun and ammunition sales.

Yahoo Finance writes that Walmart “has made changes in recent years, including ending the sale of modern-sporting rifles, like the AR-15, in 2015. Last year, Walmart also raised the minimum age for purchase to 21. The company also removed nonlethal airsoft guns and toys that resembled assault-style firearms from its website. The retailer stopped selling handguns in 1993, except for in Alaska. In 2006, Walmart began phasing out firearms sales across 1,000 locations, nearly one-third of its stores at the time.”

Yahoo Finance also has a story about another side of Walmart’s connection to the gun issue -“the millions in campaign contributions that Walmart’s political action committee (PAC) has given in recent years to Republican candidates for Congress, many of whom have voted against gun reform measures and received funding from the National Rifle Association … In the most recent election cycle, spanning 2017 and 2018, a Walmart-affiliated political fundraising group gave about $655,000 to Republican candidates for the U.S. House and Senate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Those contributions nearly match the some $690,000 given by the NRA to Republican candidates over the same period.”

The story goes on: “Among 2018 candidates for the U.S. House, four of the top eight recipients of Walmart contributions were Republicans who have received an A or A+ rating from the NRA: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR). In the 2018 election cycle, each candidate received $10,000 from the Walmart’s political fundraising group, in addition to thousands in funds they received from the NRA.

“In February, the four House representatives joined hundreds of their colleagues in voting against the most recent gun control legislation taken up by Congress: two bills that would expand mandatory background checks and close a loophole that allows for the sale of a gun if a background check isn’t finished within three days.”

It isn’t just Walmart facing gun-related issues.

The Washington Post reports that “Google and Amazon, two of the biggest platforms for online shopping, have been offering for sale and profiting from listings of firearm and gun accessories, an apparent violation of their own stated policies that shows the pitfalls of software-driven retail.

“The companies as recently as Monday, within days of three mass shootings that have shaken the nation, were offering rifle magazines for sale on their sites, including models with a capacity to hold 25 or more bullets … The availability of the goods speaks to the limitations of the company’s algorithms to keep even prohibited items from making their way to the websites. Algorithms play a huge role in policing the Internet, by automatically weeding out prohibited language, images and other disallowed things. Technology companies constantly update the software, often in response to new internal policies or societal change.”
KC's View:
This is going to be incredibly complicated for Walmart to navigate, because pressure is going to come from a lot of different places, not least from consumers and even employees that are concerned about the company’s positioning on this issue.

One MNB reader sent me an email suggesting that Walmart - and other retailers in the gun business - could face the loss of customers who believe that this is the only way to force change.

Of course, if Walmart were do what these folks want it to do, it would inevitably face blowback from people the other side of the political/cultural spectrum - people who do not believe that cutting back on the availability of guns will have an impact of mass shootings, that these whit nationalist domestic terrorists will find a way to acquire guns and ammunition.

And, as we already can see, it won’t just be Walmart. It’ll be anyone who finds themselves on what an increasing number of people will see as the wrong side of this issue.

What we don’t know is whether we actually have reached a tipping point. Will names like Dayton, Gilroy and El Paso be filed away next to names like Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas? Or is this time different, and will retailers like Walmart have to take steps they never expected to, even as more people get used to things like lock-down and active shooter drills.