Wal-Mart’s gun decision reflects new realities

Mary Dolan

The gun control debate has raged for years, and it has been recently pushed further into the spotlight as both liberals and conservatives have focused on the issue. In the past few days, Google searches for “gun control” have skyrocketed due to the recent shooting in Virginia. However, supporters of gun control have just gained an important victory: Wal-Mart announced Aug. 26 that it will stop selling assault rifles.

Wal-Mart insists that the decision was based on sales, not political factors: Spokesman Kory Lundberg said there simply wasn’t “a whole lot of demand” for assault rifles. As a result, the rifles will be replaced with hunting firearms, which have continued to sell well.

This decision could have an impact on the availability of assault rifles. Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest retailer, and many consumers have no doubt relied on its services to purchase guns and ammunition. With Wal-Mart no longer an option, many consumers may have trouble finding the weapons they want cheaply and quickly. This might reduce the number of assault rifles around the nation, as consumers are turned off by smaller retailers’ high prices and inaccessibility.

The future availability of assault rifles might not matter much to many people. After all, sales of assault rifles have declined enough for Wal-Mart to discontinue selling them. Some might be frustrated with the new policy, but the declining sales of assault rifles seem to reflect many Americans’ views on gun control. The percentage of Americans who support gun control has fluctuated over the years, but recent polls show that the majority of Americans still favor an assault weapons ban (63 percent) and background checks for those who wish to buy guns (80 percent). These polls suggest that more Americans are beginning to favor some form of gun control.

These changing attitudes may have something to do with this summer’s number of high-profile shootings. Wal-Mart’s announcement arrived on the same day as the aforementioned on-air shooting of two Virginia journalists. Though it appears that the timing of the announcement was a coincidence, it certainly reflects many Americans’ frustrations with lax gun control laws and the crimes that happen as a result. As high-profile shootings have become more prevalent, Americans have developed a stronger distaste for firearms, and this has translated into lower sales. 

Of course, potential gun control laws lead to complex questions. If consumers are required to have a background check before purchasing a gun, what kind of record would prohibit someone from doing so? Should people with mental illnesses be barred from purchasing guns? What counts as “mental illness?”

These are the kinds of hard-to-define questions that gun control opponents latch onto, making it difficult for any sort of lasting measures to be put into place. However, Wal-Mart’s decision has shown that more and more Americans are becoming open to addressing these questions and putting stricter regulations on the buying and selling of guns. Only time will tell if these restrictions ever come to pass, but Wal-Mart’s announcement has made it clear that Americans across the nation are ready to talk about potential gun control policies for the future.

Dolan is a journalism sophomore from Abilene. Follow her on Twitter @mimimdolan.