(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
As Vice President Joe Biden plotted his task force’s plan of action on gun control this week, he invited representatives Walmart to the White House to talk about it. That makes sense—as we detailed last month, the retail giant is the biggest seller of weapons and ammunition in the United States. Stakeholders as far-flung as the hunting groups Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever were invited to meet with Biden’s task force, so Walmart surely has a place at the table.
In fact, many progressives and gun control advocates argue this is a very positive development .The thinking goes like this: Walmart would stand to benefit from a strengthened background check system, because independent sellers would have to go to a certified gun retailer (like Walmart) to conduct background checks—or might stop selling guns altogether, thus sending more customers Walmart’s way. The chain also must protect its image as a responsible, family-friendly store: it previously partnered with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to adopt tougher standards for gun sales.
So maybe Walmart can hop on board and advocate for the White House’s gun control package, thus lending a significant voice and lobbying power to the good guys’ side, and creating a crucial rift between gun retailers and manufacturers.
That all sounds good—if it happens like that. (Store officials haven’t yet announced any position on gun control following the White House meetings.) But there’s significant reason to suspect it won’t work out so splendidly. Clearly, the best of both worlds for Walmart would be a strengthened background check system that drives new customers to its stores, and no assault weapons ban.
Gun sales are a key part of Walmart’s recent sales spike, and have shot up 76 percent over the past two years. Walmart doesn’t sell handguns, and so assault rifles make up a significant portion of its gun inventory and thus its increasing sales. Meanwhile, there’s big pressure on Walmart from manufacturers not to stop carrying assault weapons. Freedom Group, a large gun manufacturing conglomerate and maker of the infamous Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle, said in its most recent financial report that “In the event that Wal-Mart were to significantly reduce or terminate its purchases of firearms, ammunition and/or other products from us, our financial condition or results of operations and cash flows could be adversely affected.”