Walmart’s Anti-Gun & Ammo Announcement
Walmart recently announced it is stopping the sales of some firearms-related products in its stores. Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon, indicated that handgun sales will stop at all Walmart stores still selling handguns. The retail chain will also stop selling handgun ammunition and ammunition for “short barreled rifles” or “assault-style rifles.” Finally, Walmart has also asked customers to not openly carry guns in its stores in states where open carry is legal.
It seems the company is motivated by last month’s shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas that killed more than 20 people. According to McMillon, “It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable.” Of course, the backlash from the gun industry and supporters of the Second Amendment has been boisterous.
What does all of this mean for you?
Now, I want you to take a deep breath and read this section carefully. Maybe even read it twice. I don’t want you to misunderstand me.
I think Walmart has likely made a foolish mistake. I don’t like its new policies and I don’t think they will do a hoot to stop violence at Walmart stores or anywhere else. At the same time, Walmart is well within its rights to decide what happens in its own stores. Walmart stores are private property open to the public during posted hours. This means that Walmart must abide by state and federal laws that govern access and safety, but it also means that Walmart is free to make the majority of decisions about what takes place on its property and in its stores.
Think of it like this: Walmart is CEO Doug McMillon’s home. It’s his private property. If he asks you to take your shoes off at the door, you have two choices: take off your shoes, or don’t come inside. Now, to you and me taking off our shoes in someone’s home is probably seen as a very reasonable request. However, I believe the new policies Walmart is implementing are ridiculous. Our opinion of these policies is irrelevant (legally speaking). If instead of asking you to take off your shoes when you show up at Doug’s house you were instead asked to wear a party hat, put on a pair of welding gloves, and keep a jelly doughnut in your back pocket at all times, you would be left with the same two choices. Do the crazy stuff or go someplace else. I’m guessing you and I would have a similar response. I also guess that we will apply that response to Walmart, but more on that later.
My point here is that Walmart is completely within its rights as a retail store to restrict sales of anything it wants regardless of our Bill of Rights. But a question that is nagging at me is why in the world Walmart would make this choice. What follows are some loose thoughts I’ve been having regarding Walmart’s new anti-gun policies.
Taking a Stand on “Social Issues”
For the past five or so years it has become more and more popular for companies to take a stand on social issues. A brand that was a pioneer in this kind of marketing is Patagonia. 25 years ago when I worked in an outdoor store/climbing shop as a kid I sold Patagonia clothes to rich people who were adventuring around the world. At that time, Patagonia was just making high quality, bombproof gear. Today, Patagonia is still making quality gear, but that gear also comes with a strong environmental message about climate change and protecting the environment. Patagonia’s website, social media, and even their recycled paper catalogs have very little information about their products. Instead, they share stories about endangered places and people. They share how Patagonia, as a brand, is helping those places and people. It makes sense for Patagonia to do this. I’m not taking a position on climate change here, but I am saying that Patagonia knows its customer base. It knows what they believe and, as a brand, it is sharing how it is taking action on its customers’ behalves.
Toms Shoes has had a similar approach. Since the company’s start, the company has provided a pair of shoes to someone in an underprivileged area of the world every time someone buys a pair of Toms shoes. Sounds great. I mean, who doesn’t want to buy a new pair of shoes for themselves and a needy child in…wherever?
Companies are taking these kinds of stands on social issues because we are asking them to. According to a study by Sprout Social, more than 65% of consumers think it is important or very important for companies to take a stand on social issues. Marketers pay attention to this kind of stuff and they pitch ideas to their clients. Faced with data about societal expectations, their clients have a hard time not buying into “shoes for the needy” or “club sandwiches, not seals.” In the case of Patagonia and Toms Shoes, their stances on the social issues closely match their customer bases. Toms Shoes has more recently taken an anti-2A stance. While I don’t like Toms’ position, it probably fits with the majority of its customer base.
But Walmart’s decision doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Walmart represents rural America. It is about hard work and the American way. Taking a stand against the Second Amendment seems foolish. We are gonna circle back, so hold that thought.
Is This All Just an Official Implementation of the Walmart Status-Quo?
Walmart’s announcement was regarded by many as a definitive change in policy by the company. I wonder if this has actually been a subtle change that has taken place over time. I also wonder about the motivation for the change? Could it be that Walmart is making this decision based on what it feels are practical reasons, and then simply choosing to capitalize on potential media attention?
The Practical Status-quo?
Across the country, retailers are working to reduce costs and increase profits. One way this is done is to reduce the workforce necessary to conduct retail business. Self-serve checkouts and sparse staff on the floor are the norm at big box store; Walmart is no exception. The reduction in staff often leads to an increase in theft. It seems like a losing proposition, but studies have shown that even with increased theft there is a significant cost savings to reducing staff.
Let’s leave the crime/safety aspect out of this for now and just look at the other impacts. Every Walmart store I’ve ever visited has kept the ammunition in the sporting goods department in a locked cabinet. I need an employee’s help to access the contents of that cabinet. It has been a long time since I’ve gone to Walmart, but I’m pretty sure I aged while waiting for help to buy 100 rounds of .44 Mag for a Lee Weems lever gun class I flew in to take. It took forever. It’s always been that way. Getting help in a Walmart is as difficult as swimming the English Channel, and that sounds really hard. Is it possible that Walmart is really just more interested in investing its square footage into products that don’t need customer service help?
Customer Induced Reality?
I also wonder if Walmart’s decision might be the fault of the gun owner? Let me elaborate with an example of another retailer, Dick’s Sporting Goods. I feel kinda gross even mentioning its name, but Dick’s might lend some insight into other motives that Walmart considered. If you look at Dick’s 5 year stock value chart you will see a significant drop in value. I really want the drop to coincide with Dick’s decision to drop “assault-style” weapons, but it doesn’t pan out. On August 18, 2017, Dick’s stock price lost almost 20% of its value. The reason for the decline was stated as a decline in sales in hunting and electronics. This announcement, and the drop in value, came long before the company’s February decision to remove “assault rifles” from its stores and increase the minimum age for all gun purchases to 21. I’m left wondering if Dick’s decision was one part politics and one part “exit a market segment that isn’t currently profitable?”
The Bigger Picture
I wonder if Walmart is playing the same game? The gun industry has been a bit soft lately. There was a significant amount of panic buying leading up to the 2016 Presidential election. I’m not surprised by that. What we were all surprised about was the outcome of that election. The result was a drop in the market. Lots of guns waiting to be bought. That was matched with lots of folks feeling relieved over avoiding a political nightmare. Without political fear motivating consumers to make purchases, retailers saw low prices and slow sales. Many argue that this didn’t happen, but there is a name for it. We are in a “Trump slump.” Is Walmart dumping the Second Amendment for more profitable products? Maybe.
Safety at Walmart Stores
Safety at Walmart stores is an issue. A real issue. It has been for a long time. I’m not just talking about mass killing kind of safety. I’m talking about lots of criminals focused in one area doing lots of criminal stuff.
Imagine being a police chief in America knowing that 50% of your force may be tied up at Walmart for hours on end. Every shift. Basically, one of America’s largest companies has a crime problem and, according to Bloomberg Business, it’s a crime problem that Walmart doesn’t address directly. Instead, Walmart farms out its security work to the local police department and leaves taxpayers to foot the bill.
There are several implications here that are important to note. First off, when it comes to retail, a Walmart store tends to be where the lower socioeconomic class interacts with the middle class. As such, Walmart stores are a classic example of a “transitional space” where crimes tend to occur. Of course, other retailers have their problems as well, but with Walmart, you get what you pay for. Some people blame these problems on the lower prices bringing in a lower socioeconomic class. The number of police interactions at Walmarts tends to be higher than at other retailers, so it would seem that when you shop at Walmart you have a tendency to be shopping with more folks who tend toward a criminal nature. As a result, you have a higher likelihood of being involved in the commission of a crime simply by your presence.
According to officers I know who work in jurisdictions with Walmarts, it might be simple retail theft, but, in my opinion, if I can avoid being around that type of situation I’m going to avoid a lot of hassles in life. Let’s face it, you never know what the shoplifter has done in the past and what they might be willing to do in the future. I’d rather shop someplace else, pay a little more, and be around people who have a greater investment in their store and in me as their customer. My LE friends tend to agree. One had this to say when asked about his experience as a police officer in a location with Walmarts: “What do we see at Walmart? The usual shoplifting. Dope deals in the parking lot. Panhandlers in the parking lot. Craigslist deals gone bad in the parking lot. Craigslist gone right in the parking lot. Stalkers getting punched in the mug in the parking lot. People running smash-and-grab on cars in the parking lot. All that and we haven’t even really gotten into what happens in the store.”
Handguns are the most-commonly used defensive firearm for armed citizens, and Walmart will no longer sell them or the ammo they need. Moreover, Walmart is discouraging the open carry of firearms in its stores. While concealed carry is still allowed in Walmart (where applicable), it’s pretty clear to tell that Walmart is no longer comfortable with the idea of an armed citizenry.
The Consequences Of Walmart’s Actions
Walmart took an anti-gun, anti-ammo, and anti-liberty stance. Of course, I don’t like it. All of this leads me to several thoughts. First, I’m going to shop someplace else whenever possible. Why be around crime? It certainly is true that crime can happen anywhere, but it’s also true that crime is statistically more likely to happen at a Walmart than many other areas. It isn’t likely that I’m going to die in a Walmart, but if I can support a local merchant who cares more about me as a customer and a person then I’m gonna do it. And why go someplace where I am not welcome? Walmart has made its choice and said loud and clear (I’m quoting the CEO here), “It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable.” I feel like I’m the status-quo they are talking about. When I’m out and about, I want to be able to defend myself. But Walmart made it clear that it would rather me leave my gun at home. It is a “non-confrontational policy,” whatever that means. But I go back to the fact that it’s Doug McMillon’s house. I don’t like party hats, my hands are just fine without gloves, and I’m not putting a jelly doughnut anywhere, especially not in my pocket. I’ll be shopping elsewhere just for my own safety. Now, the reality is that this isn’t going to be a big change in my life. In the past year I have spent a grand total of $1.77 at Walmart. They have a great inexpensive desk calendar that I’ll buy elsewhere next year. But this will be a big change in some people’s lives.
American small businesses will benefit from Walmart’s choice to bow out. Local gun stores and larger operations that still support the Second Amendment are going to benefit as Walmart’s low prices and tactics no longer strain their business. A Loyola study showed that the opening of a Chicago-area Walmart resulted in the closing of 82 other stores within 24 months. Walmart’s aggressive ammo prices may have been a blessing to the shooter, but they were a burden on other ammo retailers who couldn’t match Walmart’s volume.
I talked with Kevin Creighton, the Executive Editor here at Ammoman, and he had this to say: “For whatever reason, Walmart made the call to no longer sell some of the best selling ammo calibers in the United States. At AmmoMan.com, we have plenty of ammo in 9mm, .45 ACP, .223, and similar calibers for sale. Because we’re an online retailer, feel free to (safely) carry the gun of your choice as you shop online for all the ammo you can no longer purchase at Walmart.” This falls right in line with my thoughts about spending my money with those who share my same beliefs. I’ll continue to support my local retailers with firearms purchases and my ammo will come from AmmoMan.
I do worry there will be some negative repercussions from Walmart’s poorly-considered announcement. Primarily, I’m concerned that it will be seen as a trend in business. My small company managed to survive frustrations from credit card processors and lost income during Operation Choke Point, where the FDIC pressured credit card processors to categorize gun-related businesses with other business that were questionable or outright illegal. Is Walmart going to lead the charge in what could be private businesses pressuring the public into a downward spiral of gun shaming? I also worry about the omission of guns from common culture. That kid that is growing up in an anti-gun home (or even a gun-agnostic home) that used to see a case of ammunition next to the camping and fishing supplies at the big box store isn’t going to see that any more. I was that kid, and now I’m a firearms industry professional, an instructor, and a gun writer. How formative were those passive interactions with guns for me? What will we lose without that influence? I don’t know. Only time will tell how the American consumer will respond to Walmart’s ill-informed decision. Only time will tell if other powerful businesses follow in step. I don’t have a lot of influence over either of those factors, but my dollars do. So do yours.