The announcement by Walmart that their stores will no longer sell handgun or assault-rifle ammunition is, if nothing else, a testimony to the hard work and energy of our friend Shannon Watts which has been on display now for the past six years. Shannon began a national gun-control campaign shortly after Sandy Hook focusing on women, particularly women with children, and using public spaces where most women could be found, namely, at the entrance to retail stores, Walmart being at the top of her list.
I remember seeing a group of red-shirted women from MOMS marching in front of the entrance to a Walmart store in 2015. I had often seen other public advocacy efforts in front of this store, usually people asking shoppers to sign a petition to get someone on the ballot of the upcoming election in the nearby town. But I had never previously encountered anyone marching in front of any public space with messaging that had to do with guns.
Of course right now Shannon’s Walmart strategy has had plenty of help, unfortunately help of the wrong kind. Because until recently, mass shootings were still infrequent enough that if you gave it a couple of days, like any other natural disaster, the media would stop talking about it and public concerns about gun violence would subside. But lately, it seems like once every week a bunch of people get mowed down in a public space.
We’re not talking about an ‘epidemic’ of mass shootings, which means an event which creates a lot of injuries but occurs only from time to time. We are talking about something which, to quote our friend Katherine Christoffel, has become ‘endemic,’ i.e., it’s happening all the time.
The significance of Walmart’s announcement lies in the fact that retail chains tend to watch each other in the same way that drugstore chains are usually clustered where they can keep an eye on what each chain is promoting in a particular week. If overall revenues for Walmart don’t take a hit from this announcement, which I suspect they won’t, it would come as no surprise if other discount chains follow suit. And nobody, but nobody cared when the NRA whined about Walmart’s ‘shameful’ decision.
On the other hand, my friends in Gun-control Nation need to understand that the importance of Walmart’s announcement is much more a symbolic gesture rather than representing anything real. Not that symbols aren’t important – all advocacy relies on symbolic messaging to get their arguments across. But let’s not kid themselves into thinking that a decision by Walmart to pull out of the gun business will have any real impact on injuries from guns.
My gun shop is located less than a mile from a Walmart. The store was never a competitive element when it came to gun sales, because Walmart doesn’t sell handguns and never sold used guns of any kind. And generally speaking, what creates foot traffic in every gun retailing establishment are handguns and used guns of all sorts.
Where Walmart did hurt me was in ammunition sales because there was simply no way I could compete with a big-box’s pricing structure for a commodity as common as ammunition, particularly calibers bought in bulk, like 22LR for target shooting and shotgun shells. But these calibers don’t represent the type of ammo which trauma surgeons have to dig out of people’s chests or heads. I can guarantee you that if I were still doing retail ammunition sales, that within 30 minutes after Walmart’s announcement, my gun wholesaler would have contacted me with a ‘great deal’ on 9mm and 40 S&W rounds.
The real importance of the Walmart announcement is that it places the issue squarely where it belongs – on products that have nothing to do with sporting or hunting guns. In this respect, Shannon has won a major victory that pushes the gun business back to where it really belongs.