Why Walmart’s Decision to Stop Selling AR-15s is Unavoidably Political

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?

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • guy pantely June 2, 2017, 4:22 pm

    My local WalMart here in Texas is a small store. not a supercenter. They had a few AR’s on display but the selling price on the guns was over $1000 apiece and they were just “run of the mill” basic AR’S. Not the so called tactical guns. They were pulled because they were overpriced and not selling. So the story is correct, it was a business decision not a political one.

    • Handgunner July 21, 2017, 3:43 pm

      Let’s see if we raise our prices much higher than anyone else on the same product, sales will go down and we can use and show that excuse for not selling them any longer without getting dinged by pro gunners.

  • Rollin Shultz September 1, 2015, 2:19 pm

    I am glad to hear this news about Walmart. Maybe their customers will do what they should already be dong and that’s buy their guns and ammo from the same shop they will take them to when they need to be fixed or modified. Our local gun dealers need ALL of our support.

  • Finger September 1, 2015, 12:45 pm

    I don’t think you’re being overzealous; it does matter. Many people don’t have strong convictions either way when it comes to the gun debate, and seeing an AR in the same context where they buy milk and diapers likely has (did have) the positive effect of subconsciously normalizing what many are desperately trying to paint as pure evil.

    And while they may be clearing shelf space for more guns which, in and of itself, isn’t bad, “black rifles,” I would argue, are by far the most slandered and misunderstood of all, and thus could benefit the most from exposure in a popular retail environment.

  • Conrad Lingis September 1, 2015, 9:20 am

    I live on one of the heaviest-fished inlets in Florida. With varying degrees of success, I’ve tried in the past to shop for fishing gear from Walmart. After many attempts I finally gave up trying to find anything other than rudimentary tackle because whomever was responsible for ordering sporting goods had quite obviously NEVER fished the local waters. Same crappy inappropriate selection(unless you’d planned to fish for the elusive Florida Northern Pike) same store, less than half a mile to the beach. Makes me doubt their commitment to relevant sporting goods…

    • bill October 7, 2016, 5:34 pm

      I am with you Conrad. most department managers moved into their positions, at least in the case of huge retailers, by their abilities to conform with the stocking plans given to them. they seldom are able to order any specialized local needs since the store shelves are done by choosing products that are widely selling nationwide not locally.

    • Free Targets November 1, 2016, 5:58 am

      Good to see walmart being stupid about the type of fishing gear needed, I’m sure the local takle shops are over joyed. Here in the NCW wa area our walmart is actually pretty descent with relevant fishing gear but it seems like it takes 15 minutes to find a parking spot wade through the low life morons and get to the back side of the store where the fishing gear is. They really do not have anything that is worth the BS required to get to it. We have some excellent gun/sporting/tackle shops here. One medium size one [HOT] does HUGE business as they are innovators and better yet, they don’t over charge for stuff. I can’t beat their fishing gear prices online.

      The dumber walmart is the better off the rest of us are. Got to admit though I do buy ammo from them some times. hard to find deals on that unless you bulk order online. The good local sporting goods and gun stores, sell guns at reasonable prices but ammo, they are way over the top. My ammo expenditures would be double if I had to pay their prices unless they got some type of sale going on, then I got to drag outa bed at 4AM to get in line or forget it. Shesh…

  • K Deaton September 1, 2015, 7:33 am

    I say boycott Walmart not just because of gun sales but they import everything from China, you can;t pick up nothing with out it saying made in China. Walmart has no business in the USA. I hate every time I walk into one. You can’t buy a kids toy with out it having lead paint. I stopped shopping there over a year ago. Just like Obama these stores need to go.

  • geedub August 31, 2015, 8:51 pm

    All good; Another of my competitors out of the game. Spend your bucks with small businesses. The political multibillionaire Waltons will do just fine without your patronage.

  • BOB August 31, 2015, 4:58 pm

    WELL IT IS POLITICS FROM OBAMA!! Walmart is closing stores making then sites for 9( jade helm) quarters for stockades for you and me!! People here in our state confirm this. so all check it out on www. infowars.com You aren’t going to get info on this from your news in your area they are democratic controlled for socialist agenda and not to know!!!
    WE use them also for food and medical stuff, as soon as we have a un decision on gun cetteronrtol you will let known
    who runs your life..OR wait for marshal law that is even better fo rules your life

    • Jonathan September 2, 2015, 4:26 pm

      1) It’s “martial” law, not “marshal” (like “martial arts”, i.e. wartime)
      2) Go find one of these “closed Wal-Marts” that you claim is going to be used as a “stockade” and take a picture. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a closed Wal-Mart in my life (seen some closed-down K-Marts and Targets, but never a Wal-Mart), and on top of that you’d have to see a significant amount of supply traffic to remove the inventory and replace it with stuff for a stockade (cots, dividers or modular cells, etc). This is absurd.
      3) Jade Helm is just another (large) training exercise by one of our groups of quiet professionals. They’ve been doing stuff like this every year for two or three decades. There are multiple large-area-scale small-unit exercises on American soil every year because it is significantly cheaper to train our boys HERE than pay for travel, lodging, etc to conduct an exercise overseas, much less the politcal/logistical pain in the ass of coordinating with even an allied foreign power to let us use their locations for training (I’ve been on two Crisis Response Force deployments to Spain and just getting approval for time on a live-fire and maneuver range in western Europe is a paperwork nightmare). Why do you think MCAGCC Twenty-Nine Palms exists? Is WTI in Arizona and ITX in 29 Palms a “conspiracy” to take over the country? No, it’s training in a location that provides the best simulation for the circumstances our armed forces will experience when deployed. To think Jade Helm is some kind of Socialist takeover requires two things: complete lack of knowledge about how the military works and a complete lack of knowledge of the types of people who work in our Armed Forces. There are some lib-tards and the like without a doubt, but the vast majority are people who care so much about our way of life and the importance of Constitutional values that they pledged their lives for years at a time to defend it. There is no way in hell a generic general-population group of service members would follow orders to suppress American citizens on American soil because they would recognize immediately that those orders are unlawful. And that assumes such orders would even make it that far, since the company-grade and field-grade officers in charge of them would never violate the Constitution to do something like that. Crank that up a notch or three with the ass-kickers in the SOCOM community. Those individuals are not to be f***ed with whether in combat or with unlawful orders. Those guys would never in a million years agree to so of the insane theories you conspiracy nuts come up with. I know this because I’ve worked with some of them before, and if anything they feel even MORE strongly about Constitutional values than the average soldier/sailor/airman/Marine, because of how much more commitment and personal sacrifice is necessary to make it into those elite categories. You don’t put THAT MUCH personal blood, sweat, and tears into something if you don’t believe strongly in it.
      4) Obama is a crap leader and has already made enough openly-known mistakes and poor decisions for us to call him out, the fringe nuts who cry foul over all these ridiculous things actually makes the moderate Constitutional-ist stance look WORSE. So please, cut the crap.

      • Captain Bob September 26, 2016, 11:23 am

        Couldn’t have said it better, myself (on ALL points).

  • Western Star August 31, 2015, 1:58 pm

    I have gently dissuaded people from an AR or a gun at all sometimes when I was a retail seller because things just didn’t seem right or they were a bit “quirky”. (I have had some say things in conversation that left you saying “WTF”?)
    When Walmart calls an employee from say, lawn and garden over to sell a rifle, at eight bucks an hour or so, I don’t think that employee will make that judgement call. Nor should they have to, as it isn’t really their responsibility. So, Walmart not selling modern sporting rifles really doesn’t bother me. Plenty of responsible mom and pop gun shops nearby that do.

  • Lee McCormack August 31, 2015, 12:25 pm

    I thought is was funny when the Board of Directors was misspelled as Bored of Directors. Actually many of them are pretty boring.

  • Brent Olsen August 31, 2015, 11:45 am

    If sales are slow, you carry fewer in your inventory, downsizing from having every iteration of the unit to only stocking the ones that do sell. You don’t get rid of every one of them at blowout prices and tell the world. That’s what you do when you discontinue an item. I think Walmart’s powers-that-be are secretly very happy they could point to decreasing sales on this obviously politically motivated decision. I do believe them when they say they sell more shotgun and sporting clay inventory – from the looks of things at the ones in my area that’s practically the only ammunition they even bother to stock anymore. The locked handgun/rifle ammo cases are almost empty but there is shelf after shelf of shotgun shells. Of course you sell more of the items you stock than the ones you don’t. I’d wager that they could sell plenty of firearm-related items if they’d bother to have a decent amount on hand – I can’t remember the last time I saw .22 LR at a Walmart.

  • JohnnyJT August 31, 2015, 10:18 am

    Walmart stopped selling all rifles and ammo many years ago in Philadelphia because City Father told them to!

  • Donald Hall Sr. August 31, 2015, 7:43 am

    Really? Walmart has never been a favorite of the politically correct, elitists, leftists commies and journalist lapdogs. Nothing Walmart does would ever change any of the above to change there attitudes toward this company. That being said, I suppose there are those of you who might buy an AR from Walmart. That is if you could even find a sales person to serve you and one who knew anything about what they were selling you. I will continue to buy at stores, big box (Cabelas, Bass Pro, etc) or small locally owned gun shops, where I know the people I’m talking to have good knowledge of the product they are selling.

  • miles Higgins August 31, 2015, 5:48 am

    When there selling the last of inventory for 250 a piece I was happy when the two guys in front of me bought the last seven I was sad

  • DRAINO August 30, 2015, 7:38 am

    I would have a hard time believing that politics didn’t have any role in this decision. But I can see that it was not likely the prevailing factor in their decision. Sales have dropped as evidenced by supply of these rifles and the drop in prices, and the number of other places that sell them. I would also find it difficult to argue that at this point(with the incredible number of AR’s having been sold) that they could NOT be considered “in common use”. I would not use the term “market saturation”, but there’s a butt-load of AR’s out there. Ammo sales, I am confident, will remain fairly strong, as you can find it more readily than .22LR ammo. I don’t see this as the end of our AR culture, although a small bump in the road.

    • e holder August 31, 2015, 7:34 am

      After Newtown, I was stunned at the prices of ARs, and the number that were sold. They were going for thousands, and the manufacturers were cranking away 24/7 to produce them. I was kicking myself, because I had wanted one for years, and I thought I’d blown it. Dems are the best thing going for gun manufacturers!! The more oblamer blathered about needing “more common-sense gun control,” the more guns they sold!!
      But, as I hoped, every person in the country who thought he “needed” one had finally bought one, and the prices dropped back to what they were before that tragedy, and I bought two.
      I halfway believe Walmart saying they are going to stop selling them because demand is down

      • Mark Tercsak August 31, 2015, 10:05 am

        I will agree with that Democrats are great for gun sales.
        But they along with Liberal Republicans who I call the “Repukes” have this nation in Debt over our Heads $19,000,000,000,000.00 Trillion Dollars and growing.
        Obama’s miss management of Military Affairs, he says he has a foreign Policy, I doubt it, if he does he does not support the Good Guys as gotten us into a world of Shxt.
        Than assault on our Constitution and our way of life and our freedoms and no one seems to be up-set is astounding.

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