Walmart’s earnings report calls for “debate” on assault-weapons ban

Business is booming at the retailer, but the news is still not good.
Business is booming at the retailer, but the news is still not good.
Image: Reuters/Jim Urquhart
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The world’s largest retailer, Walmart (WMT), is no doubt pleased about its second-quarter earnings report, which showed sales in stores open at least a year rising 2.8%, continuing a 20-month positive run, and a 37% increase in US online sales, driven by its grocery business. But the good news is overshadowed by a somber reality.

The company, which sells guns and ammunition, was recently the target of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas that left 22 people dead and dozens injured. The Aug. 3 massacre appeared to be driven by the shooter’s anti-immigrant sentiment and looms large in the otherwise positive report, as does a July 30 shooting in Southaven, Mississippi that left two Walmart employees and a policeman dead and another officer injured.

Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon started the earnings report off by expressing his grief, discussing the violence, outlining the state of firearms and ammunition sales at Walmart, and calling for a debate on the reauthorization of the assault-weapons ban “to determine its effectiveness in keeping weapons made for war out of the hands of mass murderers.” He stated:

Our hearts continue to be with our associates in El Paso and Southaven, and we are focused on the safety of our associates and customers in all our stores and clubs. Those tragic and painful events will be with us forever, and our hearts go out to the families that were impacted. I continue to be amazed by the courage, resilience, and caring of our people. As it’s become clearer that the shooting in El Paso was motivated by hate, we are more resolved than ever to foster an inclusive environment where all people are valued and welcomed.

The CEO said that the recent violent incidents have prompted a company reckoning. “[W]e will strive to use these experiences to identify additional actions we can take to strengthen our processes, improve our technology and create an even safer environment in our stores.”

He pointed out what Walmart has already done to strengthen internal controls on gun sales. McMillon noted that Walmart stopped selling handguns in every state but Alaska in the mid-’90s; stopped selling military-style rifles such as the AR-15 in 2015; raised the age limit to purchase a firearm or ammunition in its stores to 21 in 2018; is more strict about background checks than the law requires; videotapes gun sales areas; limits which associates can sell firearms; and “secure[s] firearms in a locking case with individual locks, among other measures.”

McMillon did not, however, say Walmart intends to stop selling firearms. He estimates that the company’s stores account for only 2% of US gun sales, which means it’s not one of the top three firearms retailers in the US. The retailer’s sales represent about 20% of ammunition purchases nationwide.

The CEO called for a better understanding of the root causes of violence, in addition to national debate about an assault-weapons ban. Still, McMillon noted that there have been some positive developments with respect to gun control, saying, “In the national conversation around gun safety, we’re encouraged that broad support is emerging to strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger.”

After the El Paso shooting, Walmart ordered stores to remove displays depicting violence, such as video games and displays. In an Aug. 6 Facebook post about the crimes in company stores, the CEO wrote, “We are a learning organization, and, as you can imagine, we will work to understand the many important issues that arise from El Paso and Southaven, as well as those that have been raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence. We will be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses, and we will act in a way that reflects the best values and ideals of our company, with a focus on serving the needs of our customers, associates, and communities.”