Walmart is taking assault rifles off its US shelves, in a move it says is motivated by diminished consumer demand rather than politics.
The world’s largest retailer will stop stocking AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles (MSRs) as it resets its stores with fall merchandise, a Walmart spokesman confirmed to Quartz on Wednesday. The company will replace the rifles (carried in less than a third of its stores) with shotguns and other hunting weapons.
The move comes in the midst of a national gun debate fueled by high-profile shootings involving the weapon, including Adam Lanza in the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, James Holmes in the Colorado theater shooting, and the Los Angeles Airport shooting where a Transportation Security Administration officer was shot and killed.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation says modern sporting rifles are among the most popular firearms being sold in America.
Many gun rights advocates do not consider the AR-15 an assault weapon, because it is not capable of automatic fire. But gun control groups use the term “assault rifles” to describe all military-style rifles with features like detachable magazines and pistol grips, which have been used in recent mass killings such as in Newton, Connecticut.
As the largest seller of guns and ammunition in the US, Walmart is a mainstay in America’s national gun debate. The company line has long been that it will sell guns as long as customers are buying them and that its focus is on hunters and sportsmen. But over the last 15 years, it has outlawed the sales of handguns and high-capacity magazines, and scaled back sales in certain parts of the country.
In July, Walmart won a federal appeals court decision that ruled the retailer could block a shareholder vote calling on Walmart executives to review the company’s decision to sell assault rifles and other products that could potentially harm its reputation, which was pushed by New York’s Trinity Wall Street Church, one of its shareholders.
Walmart said the decision was not politically-driven. Even though “this happens to get more attention because of what the product is, the decision was completely based on what customers are buying and what they want,” Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg said.
He said the company been phasing out AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles “for a while and within the next week or two, MSRs shouldn’t be in any more stores.”
This post has been updated to explain the disputed use of the term “assault weapon.”