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Walmart CEO: It's time to debate renewing U.S. assault weapons ban

Mayors urge bipartisan action on gun control
Mayors urge bipartisan action on gun control 01:43
  • Walmart CEO Doug McMillon on Thursday called for a national debate on whether an assault weapons ban that Congress let expire in 2004 would be effective "in keeping weapons made for war out of the hands of mass murderers."
  • The retailer also released for the first time some of the data for its own gun sales: Walmart estimates it has a 2% share of the U.S. firearms market and 20% of ammunition sales. 
  • Walmart is declining calls for it to stop selling guns after recent shootings killed more than 20 people at two of its stores in Mississippi and Texas.

Under pressure to stop selling guns after recent deadly shootings at two Walmart stores in Mississippi and Texas, the retailer's CEO, Doug McMillon, on Thursday said the U.S. should revisit the idea of banning assault weapons.

In prepared remarks to stock analysts that came with Walmart's quarterly earnings report, McMillon gingerly stepped into the political storm surrounding guns and an epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S.

"In the national conversation around gun safety, we're encouraged that broad support is emerging to strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger," he stated. "The reauthorization of the assault weapons ban should be debated to determine its effectiveness in keeping weapons made for war out of the hands of mass murderers."

Commonly called the assault weapons ban, the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act was adopted in 1994 and expired a decade later. The now-lapsed law prohibited the manufacture or sale for civilian use of certain semi-automatic weapons that could be converted to fire automatically and magazines that could accommodate 10 rounds or more of ammunition.

McMillon's comments Thursday were deemed insufficient by some gun-control advocates, who repeated their requests for the Arkansas-based retailer, whose total global sales last year were about $500 billion, to end its gun sales and to help lobby for gun-control legislation rather than encourage a "debate."

"There's no debate: Gun reforms save lives and the largest retailer in the world has a responsibility to do everything it can to help Americans build safer communities," Igor Volsky, founder and executive director of Guns Down America, said Thursday in a statement. "It's time for Walmart to use its enormous leverage to push our congressional leaders to act by announcing it's ending gun sales, stopping donations to NRA-backed lawmakers, and actively lobbying for gun reform, including a ban on military-style weapons."

Hundreds of millions in ammo sales alone

Walmart, which up until Thursday had long declined to break out its gun sales from its overall sales figures, now estimates it represents about 2% of the market for firearms. That puts Walmart outside at least the top three sellers in the industry, the company said, without identifying the bigger sellers. Walmart's share of the U.S. ammunition market comes to about 20%, McMillon said. 

"The percentages reflect sales and were determined based on a wide range of industry data. We have not broken out the information further to disclose sales figures," Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Of the estimated $6 billion in non-military firearms and ammunition sales in 2018, ammo sales made up about $1.9 billion, according to Jurgen Brauer, chief economist at Small Arms Analytics. Given Walmart's 20% estimate, that would translate into $380 million in ammunition sales for Walmart last year.

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Overall, Brauer's analytics company estimates 13.8 million firearms were sold in the U.S. in 2018. Leaving out handguns, which Walmart only sells in Alaska, and miscellaneous other firearms, Brauer's firm estimates 5.4 million long guns were sold in the U.S. last year, with Walmart's stated 2% portion hard to gauge from the company's limited disclosures. "I imagine Walmart mostly sells lower-priced firearms, so 2% of units and 2% of dollar value will give a different impression," commented Brauer.

The projections come after a shooting rampage earlier this month that killed at least 22 people at one of its stores in El Paso, Texas, and a separate incident days earlier in which an employee shot and killed two other workers at a Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi. After those shootings, an armed man wearing body armor triggered panic when he walked into a Walmart store in Springfield, Missouri.

Walmart stopped sales of assault rifles in 2015 following several mass shootings and hiked the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 last year after the Parkland, Florida, massacre. It continues to sell rifles and shotguns in roughly half of its 4,750 stores in the U.S. 

The retailer last week removed violent video games from displays in its stores, and about 1,000 third-party gun-related products from its website.

Still, the steps are insufficient in the eyes of some, including the American Federation of Teachers, the country's biggest teachers' union, which last week threatened a boycott Walmart over its gun sales.

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