BISMARCK — A national retailer’s recent policy changes on ammunition sales and the open carry of weapons in stores is seen as commendable by some in the Bismarck area, while others say any definitive changes in gun violence will come only when guns are kept out of the wrong hands.
Walmart officials this week announced their stores would no longer sell handgun ammunition and certain rifle ammunition. The chain also is asking customers not to openly carry weapons in their stores, even in states where the practice is permitted by law.
It’s a move Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, thinks was brought on by a “serious and devastating situation,” referring to the early August shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in which 22 people were killed and 48 injured.
“It’s very clear at almost every level of government, whether it’s federal, state, local, there aren’t many people who want to touch on this,” said Oban, who supported a defeated "red flag" bill in the Legislature earlier this year that could have prevented people deemed a public safety risk from possessing guns. “If this is how things get done, if that’s how they feel they can protect their workers, the public who comes in and shops, then that’s entirely up to them.”
The halt of ammo sales, she said, is an interesting way to create distance between quick reactions and easy access.
“Everything I know about gun safety says you should store firearms away from ammunition,” Oban said. “If that’s a move Walmart wants to make to create some distance for themselves, good for them.”
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon in a Sept. 3 memo to associates said the chain will sell its current inventory of handgun ammo and rifle ammo including .223 and 5.56 mm, which can be used in large-capacity magazines, then discontinue those sales. Stores also will sell and discontinue ammunition such as .300 Blackout, 7.62x39, and others that can be used in “military-style weapons,” said Delia Garcia, senior director of communications. It was unclear how long it would take to sell the existing inventory, Garcia said, and the company considered several methods of discontinuing the ammo sales.
“Due to the regulatory complexities surrounding ammunition, we determined this was the right path to take,” she said.
Taking the ammo off the shelves won’t stop further shootings, said Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, who voted against the "red flag" bill. Other changes made by Walmart in recent years, such as stopping the sale of AR-15s and no longer selling to anyone under 21, have had no impact, he maintained. He believes the company would have stopped all sales of guns and ammo if it believed it would have helped.
“And they didn’t,” he said. “They’ve been doing piecemeal only by what’s being demanded by the gun control advocates.”
Becker sees the company walking a fine line between what gun control advocates are demanding and what their customers are demanding.
“The angle that they’re taking in these decisions is that gun control is the solution, that gun is the problem and it’s not,” Becker said. “It’s not the problem, and control is not the solution.”
McMillon in his memo said that the new ammo sales policy will take Walmart’s market share from about 20% to a range of 6% to 9%.
Ammo sales don’t really play into the real problem, said Brandon Charvat, owner of Mandan Sporting Goods. Ammo can be purchased in lots of shops, and also online with delivery in a couple of days. Any solution to gun violence lies more in keeping guns out of the wrong hands, he said. He and other licensed gun dealers go through the background check process with each gun sale, but anyone who wants a gun can bypass licensed dealers and buy privately.
“We’re doing everything the way the federal government has it in place right now,” Charvat said. “There’s a flaw in the system, definitely, that needs to be fixed, and it has to do with the mental state of the person buying the gun.”
Walmart “had to do something” in response to the El Paso shooting, he said.
“This is their way of saying, hey, this is what we’re doing,” Charvat said.
There is a possibility that ammo prices could go down at smaller shops because Walmart’s exit from that market will create a surplus, however short-lived it might be. What it won’t do, he said, is reduce availability.
“They’re gonna get the ammo,” he said.
It’s a sensitive issue, Oban said, and discussion needs to focus on solutions to ending gun violence “and unfortunately we’ve proven we are not capable of doing that, in many ways.”
“For Walmart to take that into their own hands, I commend them for doing that in a way that they feel was appropriate for them,” she said.