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Some Walmart employees call for retailer to end gun sales

New details on accused El Paso shooter
  • Some Walmart workers are demanding that the retail giant stop selling firearms after shootings at two of the company's stores left 24 people dead.
  • Walmart is among the nation's biggest vendors of firearms and ammunition, selling guns in roughly half of its 4,750 stores in the U.S.
  • Walmart stopped selling handguns in 1993 and assault-style rifles in 2015.

Walmart employees in at least three U.S. cities plan to walk off their jobs Wednesday afternoon to demand that the retailer stop selling guns after shootings at two of its stores killed 24 people and left dozens injured. 

The action by workers at Walmart's e-commerce offices in San Bruno, California; Portland, Oregon; and Brooklyn, New York, come as part of an effort to get the world's biggest retailer to halt firearm sales, as well as end donations to politicians funded by the National Rifle Association. 

Among the biggest sellers of firearms and ammunition in the U.S., Walmart sells rifles and shotguns in roughly half of its 4,750 U.S. stores. It's also the nation's biggest employer, with 1.5 million workers.

The demonstration, scheduled for 3 p.m., comes after 21-year-old Patrick Crusius allegedly killed 22 people and wounded dozens more at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday. The mass shooting came days after a Walmart worker was charged with shooting and killing two coworkers at a company store Southaven, Mississippi.

"After last weekend's shootings, Walmart associates returned to work afraid, angry, devastated and confused," Walmart workers organizing under United for Respect, a nonprofit labor group, said Wednesday in a statement. "We feel a profound lack of confidence in the ability of both elected officials and Walmart's leadership to protect us from violence in our stores."

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Organizers also launched a Change.org petition that drawn 33,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon. "We are no longer willing to contribute our labor to a company that profits from the sale of deadly weapons," it stated. "We would like to see Walmart take a unified and public stance against guns and gun violence."

Walmart downplayed the notion that employee demonstrations would be widespread, with spokesperson Randy Hargrove noting a call for associates to call in sick on Tuesday yielded a small response. "We're only aware of two people who participated," he told CBS News.

Hargrove disputed reports that Walmart was pressuring employees not to participate in public protests.

He did, however, confirm that Walmart had disabled the internal emails of two employees who were organizing the walkout. "Company channels are provided to help associates do their work, and the two associates indicated that they were not planning to work yesterday. When they return to work, they will regain access to these channels pending a review of the circumstances," he said by email.  

Walmart has changed its gun policies over the years, with customers who buy a firearm from the retailer having to follow a more rigorous process than what is required by state and federal law, Hargrove said. The Bentonville, Arkansas, company stopped selling handguns in 1993 and assault-style rifles in 2015. After 17 students and teachers were slain in a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year, it hiked the minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21. 

A gun purchased at a Walmart was used to kill three people outside a Jewish care center in Overland, Kansas, in 2014. And ammunition bought at Walmart stores were used in high-profile shootings including a 2016 attack at an Orlando nightclub in which 50 people died, as well as a 2018 shooting in which 18 were shot in Arizona, including U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.  

"Many would argue the changes that they have made are molecular in nature," said Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, a crisis public relations firm. The retailer is unlikely to halt gun sales, given its core customer base leans conservative and opposes restricting the right to bear arms, he said. "They're staying with what brought them to the dance, which is aligning with the rights of the Second Amendment."

Ultimately, the retailer is "counting on time to be the healer and the fast news cycle to shift the attention of the public," Schiffer added.

Recent mass shootings renew gun control debate

"There's been no change in our policy at this time," said Hargrove, who said Walmart is focused on "our associates, customers and the community of El Paso." Walmart is trying to place the roughly 400 workers from the El Paso store with other stores in the area, he added.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a post on social media that the company would work to "understand the many important issues arising from El Paso and Southaven as well as those raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence." 

"We'll be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses," added the executive, who was in El Paso on Tuesday to meet with employees who worked at the store where the shooting took place. 

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Last week, our Walmart family suffered two separate acts of violence. It’s difficult to find a word strong enough to describe the way we feel. We’re feeling a range of emotions – shock, anger, grief. We also feel gratitude for the first responders in El Paso and Southaven and are proud of the way associates reacted so courageously. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I’m in El Paso today, and I’ve met heroes. We heard incredible stories of associates who made heroic efforts to get customers to safety. From our manager, Robert, who was leaving the store then ran back when he heard shots, to Gilbert and Lasonya, who helped dozens of customers to safety out the back of the store, to Mayra, who may have been the very first responder, and did an exceptional job bandaging wounds and helping customers escape. I also got to thank Sarah and her team from the Sam’s Club next door for the care they provided to customers. We heard story after story of courageous associates putting others ahead of themselves. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ When the worst happens, we counter with our best selves. We support each other, pray, stand firm and heal together. We’re proud to be woven into the American fabric as a place for all people, a community gathering place. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ As it becomes clear that the shooting in El Paso was motivated by hate, we’re more resolved than ever to foster an inclusive environment where all people are valued and welcomed. Our store in El Paso is well known as a tight-knit community hub, where we serve customers from both sides of the border. I continue to be amazed at the strength and resilience we find in the diversity of communities where we live and work. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We’re a learning organization, and we’ll work to understand the many important issues arising from El Paso and Southaven as well as those raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence. We’ll be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses, and will act in a way that reflects our best values and ideals, focused on the needs of our customers, associates and communities. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Thanks for what you do every day, especially during this difficult time. I’m grateful to be part of this team and proud of you.

A post shared by Doug McMillon (@dougmcmillon) on

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