Businesses are responding with alacrity to the changing politics of gun control in the wake of the Florida shooting, with Dick’s Sporting Goods saying Wednesday it will no longer sell popular semiautomatic rifles like the one police say was used in the Feb. 14 school massacre.
Gun control activists hailed the move, saying it’s a next big step toward changing the national conversation on guns.
But those in the industry say it doesn’t necessarily portend a sea change, and that other stores will be eager to step in to accommodate the continued demand for popular rifles like the AR-15.
Walmart also announced late Wednesday that it would no longer sell guns or ammunition to anyone under 21 years of age.
In light of recent events, we’ve taken an opportunity to review our policy on firearm sales. Going forward, we are raising the age restriction for purchase of firearms and ammunition to 21 years of age. We will update our processes as quickly as possible to implement this change.
In 2015, Walmart ended sales of modern sporting rifles, including the AR-15. We also do not sell handguns, except in Alaska where we feel we should continue to offer them to our customers. Additionally, we do not sell bump stocks, high-capacity magazines and similar accessories. We have a process to monitor our eCommerce marketplace and ensure our policies are applied.
We take seriously our obligation to be a responsible seller of firearms and go beyond Federal law by requiring customers to pass a background check before purchasing any firearm. The law would allow the sale of a firearm if no response to a background check request has been received within three business days, but our policy prohibits the sale until an approval is given.
We are also removing items from our website resembling assault-style rifles, including nonlethal airsoft guns and toys. Our heritage as a company has always been in serving sportsmen and hunters, and we will continue to do so in a responsible way.- Walmart Statement
Dick’s said that in light of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, it will no longer sell assault-style rifles like the AR-15 or high-capacity ammunition magazines, and that it will also require any gun buyer to be at least 21 years old.
“We know there’s going to be some backlash,” Dick’s CEO Edward W. Stack said on CNN. “When you look at those kids and their parents and the grief that everyone is going through — we don’t want to be a part of this story any longer.”
The company had removed some rifles from Dick’s stores after the Newtown school shooting in December 2012, but will now remove them from its 35 Field & Stream Stores as well.
Mr. Stack said the company had a “pit in our stomach” when it discovered shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, 19, bought a shotgun at one of its stores in November. Police say Mr. Cruz used only the AR-15-style rifle in the Feb. 14 attack that killed 17 people.
Gun control advocates applauded Dick’s for moving with more speed than Capitol Hill, where lawmakers appear to be struggling to craft a legislative response.
“It’s a testament to how much the gun debate has changed since the devastating shooting in Parkland that major gun retailers like Dick’s are willing to act, and we encourage other retailers to follow its lead,” said John Feinblatt, president of the group Everytown for Gun Safety.
Some airline and rental car companies have also ended discount programs for National Rifle Association members in the wake of the Florida shooting. FedEx, meanwhile, announced publicly that it won’t sever ties with the NRA.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the move from Dick’s won’t really make a difference for him and many others on the board of his group who are more inclined to buy firearms at gun shows or specialty shops anyway.
“I think they’re driven a lot by political correctness,” he said. “Is it going to make a difference to gun owners? Not really.”
When major retailers discontinue selling certain categories of products other smaller outfits will also swoop in, said Roger Beahm, a retail expert at the Wake Forest University School of Business.
“As long as the controversial products and categories are legal, the retail environment for the sale of these products will exist in some form,” he said. “Demand for any product, including firearms, ultimately rests with the consuming public.”
Walmart had announced in August 2015 it would no longer carry the AR-15 model or other assault-style weapons, though it attributed the move to slack demand.
In addition to the new age restrictions, the big-box retail giant also announced Wednesday it would be removing items from its website “resembling assault-style rifles, including nonlethal airsoft guns and toys.”
Bill Simon, a former Wal-Mart CEO, said recently that such stores shouldn’t stop selling guns and that people should want “responsible retailers” selling them.
“It wouldn’t solve the problem,” he said on CNBC. “They’re still out there. They still would be sold outside of the traditional retail channels, at gun shows and in private sales where they’re not tracked.”
Overall, there were 3.7 million rifles manufactured in the United States in 2015, according to a report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
That was up from 3.3 million in 2014, though down from the nearly 4 million in 2013 during the post-Newtown boom.
The accused gunmen in some of the most recent mass shootings like in Parkland, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, and Orlando generally bought their guns legally from a mix of both smaller stores and larger chains.
Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock bought some of his arsenal of more than 50 firearms at a variety of smaller local stores, but he also bought several guns from Bass Pro Shops outlets.
Mr. Van Cleave said that federally licensed gun dealers, who are required to conduct background checks on all buyers, are serious about following the rules, regardless of the size of the store.
“You talk about an industry that’s scrutinized by the government, boy,” he said. “Even these small little mom-and-pop gun stores, [dealers] are all carefully playing by the rules.”
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