Walmart’s decision to ask customers to refrain from openly carrying firearms in its stores cast a spotlight on the balancing act that retailers try to strike between maximizing sales, maintaining safety and appeasing interest groups.
While anti-gun activists welcomed the announcementon Tuesday as an powerful step and called for more, gun rights advocates assailed the decision as infringing on their rights.
Walmart – which also announced it would no longer sell certain ammunition, including bullets for handguns and assault-style rifles – joined a growing list of national chains that have taken action to minimize the presence of firearms at their stores.
Walmart has been the focus of a campaign by gun control activists and others to pressure it to stop selling guns and take other actions in the wake of a wave of mass shootings, including one at a Walmart in El Paso last month that left 22 people dead.
“There are business issues, moral issues and maybe even safety issues” compelling retailers to take a hard look at guns, said Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan.
Walmart takes action: Walmart to no longer sell certain ammunition, ask customers to stop open carry in stores
Key questions relating to the Walmart open-carry decision:
Are they legally allowed to do this?
Yes. While laws vary from state to state, businesses are generally allowed to ban people from bringing certain items into their locations.
Because they are private entities, businesses are not subject to the Second Amendment, which prevents the government from making laws that infringe on citizens’ right to bear arms.
With Walmart taking action, others may follow. In fact, Kroger on Tuesday announced a similar request for customers to refrain from openly carrying guns. Others had already done so, including Target and Starbucks.
How do I know if a retailer prevents me from bringing my gun inside?
Look for signs before you enter.
The U.S. Concealed Carry Association notes that in Wisconsin, for example, you’ll be asked to take your gun outside the store or leave if the business notices you carrying the gun inside the store.
“However, in some other states, you may run into some serious legal problems just for missing the sign and entering the business,” attorney Tom Grieve wrote in a legal analysis for the USCCA. “It is on you from a liability standpoint if you missed it. No warnings, no second chances; you will face charges if you are caught.”
Something else to watch for: Certain locations that ban guns may not have signs, such as post offices.
Also, openly carrying guns is not allowed in all states. Make sure you’re in compliance with federal, state and local laws in all cases.
Won’t Walmart lose business?
Yes. When Dick’s Sporting Goods banned sales of assault-style rifles and handguns, the retailer’s sales initially suffered. But the company stuck by the decision, and overall sales recently posted an encouraging increase.
The National Rifle Association said Walmart will feel pain.
“Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by lines at other retailers who are more supportive of America’s fundamental freedoms,” the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action said in a statement.
Walmart estimated its market share in ammunition would fall from about 20% to a range of 6% to 9%. But Walmart is so big that it may not hurt too much: The company’s revenue totaled about half a trillion dollars in 2018.
“Walmart is a leader in utilizing and analyzing data. They understand well how much this could hurt their bottom line and have decided to do it anyway,” Michigan’s Gordon said.
Is this a public relations play?
It depends on who you ask. The NRA says yes.
“It is shameful to see Walmart succumb to the pressure of the anti-gun elites,” the group said in a statement.
But Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the company felt compelled to act following a series of incidents, including the in El Paso, Texas.
“We want what’s best for our customers, our associates and our communities,” McMillon wrote Tuesday in a letter announcing the new policy. “In a complex situation lacking a simple solution, we are trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk that events like these will happen again. The status quo is unacceptable.”
How does politics factor in?
Walmart used the platform of Tuesday’s announcement to make a plea for political action on guns.
McMillon said Walmart believes the U.S. should “strengthen background checks” and “remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger,” as well as consider a ban on assault weapons.
But the company is also likely wary of becoming too political for fear of becoming a target of an organized campaign of consumers to shop elsewhere.
“They actually are quite fearful about offending any group that’s well organized or any category of people that evokes widespread sympathy,” Gordon said.
McMillon noted in his letter that he’s a gun owner himself and that the company’s heritage of supporting hunters would continue.
Contributing: Charisse Jones, Janna Herron
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.