When I lived in New York and California, I never used to shop at Walmart. It wasn’t a corporate boycott thing, it was a decision that was based on logistics. Simply put, there wasn’t one around.
Then I moved to Kentucky, which is Walmart country. I’m not joking. I think there are three Walmarts within a five-mile radius of where I live. So, now, whether I like it or not, I’m a Walmart customer.
Let me just be real for a moment and say that as much as I try to be a conscientious consumer, all that goes out the window when my girlfriend has a migraine at 11 p.m. and she needs me to run out and get some headache medicine. In this scenario, I’m going to the closest damn drug store or supermarket around. I don’t care what a store’s corporate policies are on firearms or if gun-control czar Michael Bloomberg is working the cash register, I’d still go in and buy the pills and be done with it.
I’m sure I’m not alone in operating this way. I’m sure many of you put convenience before conviction when exigent circumstances arise. That said, don’t get me wrong, I prefer to give money to people who are pro-2A. I love to shop at Kroger, for example, because they have erred on the side of being pro-gun in the open-carry debate. They refuse to capitulate to Moms Demand Action which has repeatedly asked them to ban open carry in store locations, to which, Kroger has said that they will continue to obey the local laws of the land and if that includes open carry then so be it.
Which brings me to Walmart’s latest decision to discontinue selling AR-15s and other tactical-looking rifles, a decision that company executives said was based off market conditions — not politics. Basically, AR-15s aren’t flying off the shelves like the used to during the Obama gun boom, as one industry insider told me.
“Walmart is all about the ROI on the shelve space. When ARs were hot, they sold them,” said the industry insider. “The AR market has cooled off compared to 2013-14. So now they are switching up their product mix. This move has been in the works since early spring. Doing it now (50% to move remaining inventory) to have hunting guns on the shelve going into hunting season which starts next week with dove season in some states. They are also putting guns in more stores.”
“If ARs were to get hot again it would not surprise me to see them put them back on the shelve,” the insider continued. “They are going to sell what their customers demand. They didn’t pull the guns off the shelve and send the guns back to the manufacturers, they continued to sell them until now. This is a business story, not a #2A story.”
The insider’s comments reflect exactly what Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg told Fox News.
Insisting that the decision was not political, Lundberg said, “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.”
Lundberg added that the are increasing inventory of other models of shotguns and rifles popular among hunters.
“We wanted to make sure when customers are coming and looking to purchase those products, they see the products they want. We see more business from hunters and people shooting clay,” he said.
I guess I believe Lundberg. But more importantly, I trust my source. Plus, judging by the deals that are out there right now on AR-15s, it’s easy to see that the demand for these commonly owned and popular black rifles has waned. That said, what gives one cause to pause is Walmart’s history with the historic Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York, which owns stock in the company.
Last year, Trinity Church leaders filed a lawsuit against Walmart after the board of directors refused to hear a proposal submitted by the church that would require the governance committee to review policies on the sale of certain semiautomatic rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Ultimately, Walmart won the suit after a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge said that Walmart had the power to block a shareholder proposal on the sale of a specific product.
Third Circuit Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote:
Stripped to its essence, Trinity’s proposal—although styled as promoting improved governance—goes to the heart of Wal-Mart’s business: what it sells on its shelves…We thus hold that, even if Trinity’s proposal raises sufficiently significant social and corporate policy issues, those policies do not transcend the ordinary business operations of Wal-Mart. For a policy issue here to transcend Wal-Mart’s business operations, it must target something more than the choosing of one among tens of thousands of products it sells. Trinity’s proposal fails that test.
The ruling was made public last month. Trinity Church can still appeal the ruling, but on the heels of the decision to discontinue selling AR-15s, it would be surprising if they did as church leaders got what they wanted.
In a statement released on Wednesday, rector of the church, Rev. William Lupfer said the congregation was “pleased to hear Walmart 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,” Lupfer wrote.
From a selfish standpoint, I’m happy that Walmart is no longer going to sell AR-15s. That effectively means more AR listings on GunsAmerica, which of course is good news for me and my employers. We’ll happily and enthusiastically continue to serve those looking to buy, sell or even build an AR-15 (check out our 10-part series on the subject). Though, from a Second Amendment advocate standpoint, I find it a little troubling.
Walmart is the world’s largest retailer. It generates more revenue than any other company on the planet. When it makes a decision to stop selling a controversial product, it has politically implications. That’s just the reality of the situation.
See, part of the argument gun-rights advocates make to protect the ownership of modern sporting rifles is that they are commonplace. The reason why we make this argument is because Supreme Court decisions [United States v. Miller] have historical said that the Second Amendment protects weapons that are “in common use at the time.” When AR-15s show up on the shelves at the country’s most popular retailer, it helps to bolster the argument that it’s commonplace or in common use.
By contrast, when Walmart stops selling AR-15s they become less commonplace, more hidden from the curious gaze of Joe Public. Even though black rifles were only available in less than a third of the company’s 4,600 U.S. stores, there were still a non-trivial number of non-gun owners bumping into modern sporting rifles while shopping for breakfast cereal, cotton swabs, pillow shams and all the other products Walmart offers. This helped to normalize a tool that is constantly demonized by anti-gunners.
Think about the accessibility factor. When Joe Public can examine an AR at Walmart, he can see for himself that it’s not as foreign or scary as gun-grabbers claim. Over time, he may be less inclined to believe the myths about modern sporting rifles: that they’re fully automatic, that they’re more powerful than other hunting rifles, that they’re harder to use than a shotgun, that they’re evil incarnate.
Anyways, maybe I’m being a bit overzealous about the impact of the decision. Maybe it doesn’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of the health and well-being of the Second Amendment. As I said, I accept that the decision wasn’t about politics but about dollars and cents. I do think there is a political cost to it, but maybe it’s negligible. After all, they’re clearing shelf space for more guns, just not ARs.
What are your thoughts about the decision? Do you believe there are political ramifications? Do you believe the decision was solely about business?