The National Rifle Association expressed outrage last week at the news that Walmart would stop selling ammunition for handguns and certain types of assault-style rifles.
The NRA called the decision “shameful.” That’s the wrong assessment. The powerful gun-rights lobbying group should be thanking the nation’s largest bricks-and-mortar retailer.
Walmart’s decision provides cover for political leaders who seem paralyzed in the wake of mass shootings. For those clamoring for some type of action to stop gun violence, the company’s move makes it seem like something is getting done.
Because of its size, Walmart’s decision is not lacking in significance. The company accounts for about 2 percent of the nation’s firearms sales and about 20 percent of the ammunition sold by U.S. retailers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
This suggests that Americans still have access to 98 percent of firearms and 80 percent of ammunition from other retailers. One would have to believe that at least some Walmart competitors would be unlikely to cede territory that this retail behemoth has abandoned. That doesn’t happen often.
In the end, Walmart’s move gives the impression that it’s something of monumental importance after last month’s horrific mass shootings sparked calls to do something. That’s an understandable response, but public opinion polls show a more conflicted view on guns.
Polls taken prior to the Texas shootings showed 89 percent support for broader background checks and 75 percent support for red flag laws. Support dips to 61 percent when respondents are asked if gun laws should be more strict. Only 57 percent support an automatic weapons ban.
Walmart executives probably looked at polling data like this and decided it was time to act. Polling gives a picture of public views on this issue, but it doesn’t answer the critical question of what actually works. Walmart announced its decision the same day that law enforcement disclosed that a 36-year-old man failed a nationwide criminal background check but still managed to access an AR-15-style rifle for a deadly mass shooting.
That raises the uncomfortable reality that the immediate action the public demands might not solve the problem of mass shootings. In its official statement on the ammo announcement, Walmart makes two good points that both sides of this debate should consider.
Walmart calls guns violence “a complex situation lacking in a simple solution.” That’s for the “do something” crowd.
The company also said, “the status quo is unacceptable.” That could be for the NRA loyalists.
The point is, Walmart’s feel-good gesture solves little. If there is a solution out there, it’s up to Congress and not corporate America to act.