In this week’s issue, we describe  how Walmart has expanded gun sales—including military-style assault weapons—to half of its stores nationwide, and is the country’s biggest retailer of guns and ammunition in the country.
As our story was about to be published, Walmart removed a Bushmaster AR-15 style assault rifle, the same gun Adam Lanza used to carry out his attack on the Sandy Hook Elementary School, from its website. All of the other assault weapons remain. (See other examples here ).
This is one of the most transparent public relations moves in relation to a dangerous product that I can recall—it was literally the least Walmart could do. To be clear, the store never actually sold the guns online. Rather, you can peruse Walmart’s gun inventory on its website, read customer reviews and product specifications and then find a Walmart near you that carries the item.
All Walmart did was remove that one gun, the one most likely to create a public relations problem, from a website where you couldn’t buy it anyway. But the Bushmaster remains on Walmart shelves—something the retail giant confirmed to MSNBC this afternoon, saying there is “no change” to its firearm sales.
Other retail chains, however, are making changes—though only slightly more substantial than Walmart’s URL adjustment. Dick’s Sporting Goods is “suspending ” sales of some rifles in stores nationwide during “this time of national mourning,” and taking all guns out of stores located near Newtown, Connecticut. Cabela’s will stop selling  AR-15s in Connecticut only.
If Walmart were to curtail weapons sales, however, it wouldn’t just hurt their bottom line. Freedom Group, one of the largest gun manufacturers in the country with $237.9 million in annual sales, said in its most recent financial statement  that Walmart accounts for 13 percent of those sales alone, and warned investors of trouble should Walmart ever change its policy:
Our sales to Wal-Mart are generally not governed by a written long-term contract between the parties. 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.
Freedom Group was dumped today  by its private equity owner, Cerberus Capital, following investor pressure. They’re in for more trouble if Walmart stops selling guns—but don’t look for that to happen anytime soon, based on how the retail giant has responded so far.
Don’t miss George Zornick’s piece on “How Walmart Helped Make Newton Shooter’s AR-15 the Most Popular Assault Weapon in America ”.