August 5, 2019 / 8:38 PM / 17 days ago

UPDATE 2-Walmart faces pressure to stop gun sales after latest U.S. mass shootings

(Adds comment from Armslist)

By Nandita Bose and Melissa Fares

Aug 5 (Reuters) - Walmart Inc said on Monday there has been no change in its policy on gun sales after two mass shootings over the weekend, including one at a Walmart store, left 31 people dead in Texas and Ohio.

Years of public pressure led Walmart, the largest U.S arms retailer, to end assault rifle sales in 2015 and in 2018 to raise the minimum age for gun purchases to 21. Some gun control activists and Walmart customers now want the retailer to drop sales of guns and ammunition altogether.

The weekend shooting in Texas unfolded at a popular Walmart store in the border city of El Paso, killing 22 people. In the other weekend mass shooting, in Dayton, Ohio, a gunman killed nine people.

Many people took to social media to post about the deadly shooting using the hashtags #walmartshooting," "#boycottwalmart," and "#guncontrolnow."

Guns Down America, an advocacy group that runs campaigns for gun control, began a petition to urge more change at Walmart late on Monday.

The petition calls on Walmart to stop selling firearms, pledge it will no longer make contributions to lawmakers who take money from gun rights lobby the National Rifle Association, and fund gun buybacks. It also pushes Walmart to use its political influence to advocate for legislative changes to raise the standards for gun ownership in America.

"Federal legislative change will take time, but more and more Americans are dying every day," Igor Volsky, founder and executive director of Guns Down America, told Reuters. "The El Paso shooting happened in their store, they have a responsibility to go further."

It is not the first time that gun-control advocates have signed a petition calling on Walmart to take action. In early 2013, just one month after a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut, shot dead 20 first-graders and six adults at an elementary school, nearly 300,000 people signed a petition urging Walmart to stop selling assault weapons.

It was another two years before Walmart ended such sales.

"A REASON TO BOYCOTT WALMART"

Other gun control activists such as Texas Gun Sense President Ed Scruggs said Walmart, whose stores act as de facto community centers in rural America, could do more to educate children and teenagers on gun safety.

A group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said it has been asking Walmart to stop letting shoppers walk into its stores with guns - even where doing so is permitted by law. Target and Starbucks have policies asking shoppers not to carry firearms in their stores.

On Twitter, one Florida-based user said Walmart needs more security. Another user, from Irvine, California, said Walmart's statement outlining that it would not change its gun policies in the wake of the two shootings over the weekend was "shocking."

"If this isn't a reason to boycott Walmart, I don't know what is!" the user tweeted.

Some celebrities also demanded more action from the retailer.

"Hey @Walmart! This would be a great opportunity for you to take a true leadership position and stop selling guns," actress Alyssa Milano said in response to a Walmart company tweet saying it was "in shock" over the tragic events in Texas.

For now, Walmart's policies remain unchanged.

A Walmart spokesman on Monday told Reuters the retailer has not made any change in its firearms sales policy after the mass shootings and that it has not issued a directive to any stores around the country to change policy.

"Our focus has always been on being a responsible seller of firearms," spokesman Randy Hargrove said. "We go beyond federal law, requiring all customers to pass a background check before purchasing any firearm."

The retailer's chief executive, Doug McMillon, offered his support to the community of El Paso and reached out to employees via Instagram on Sunday. "I can't believe I'm sending a note like this twice in one week," he said, referring to an earlier message he sent after two employees were shot by a co-worker in a store in Mississippi.

Walmart's gun safety policies are more restrictive than many retailers' even as it trails some of its rivals.

Walmart rivals like Kroger-owned Fred Meyer stopped selling guns and ammunition in 2018 and the same year, Dick's Sporting Goods ended the sale of assault weapons and raised the minimum age to 21 for gun purchases.

In March 2019, Dick's also said it would pull guns and ammunition off the shelves of 125 of its 720 store, a decision the company said it took because its gun sales were down due to competition from dedicated gun and hunting stores.

That same month, in a call to discuss earnings, the company's chief executive, Ed Stack, said lower sales during the quarter were partly driven by lower demand for "anything associated with hunting," including guns, ammunition, firearm accessories and hunting apparel.

Despite such measures from the larger chains, the sale of guns and assault-style weapons continues unabated.

Outdoor goods chains including Bass Pro Shops, Gander Outdoors and Academy Sports continue to sell assault-style rifles. A proliferation of online retailers like AIM Surplus, Armslist and Brownells also sell firearms that can be easily procured.

Armslist called the shootings "horrific" and said in a statement it is a service that does not directly sell guns, but carries ads and listing for private sales. The other companies did not respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington and Melissa Fares in New York; additional reporting by Richa Naidu in Chicago; editing by Leslie Adler, Susan Thomas and Dan Grebler

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