There seems little doubt that Walmart’s decision to limit ammunition sales and ask its customers to refrain from openly carrying guns in its stores represents more than just a routine business move.
That’s because Walmart has long served as a touchstone or proxy for “real America” – one often seen as anathema to liberals, coastal elites and others who might push for gun control.
Think of the so-called Walmart Mom demographic, an important subset of swing voters first identified about a decade ago. They became shorthand for a key swath of America, one not driven by ideology so much as practicality.
In many ways, Walmart’s decision is also one grounded in the practical.
“Part of what explains what we’ve been seeing, both after Parkland and with the Walmart case now, is that more people who are in favor of things like greater gun control, who want companies to take steps to limit access to guns and ammunition … are actually more focused on these issues,” Brian Berkey, an assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics, told the Los Angeles Times. “Because of that, companies are feeling the need to respond in a way that they haven’t in the past.”
And so here we are: The country’s largest retailer is, at last, bringing its policies in line with how most Americans feel about gun violence – making Walmart’s announcement register as more than mere lip service to “anti-gun elites.”
There’s also something almost ineffably disheartening about Walmart’s news: the apparent desperation of it all. The company arrived at the decision after mass shootings claimed more than 50 lives in a single month.
Thus Walmart, a private company, is regulating itself.
It must – not only because of the recent gun violence that’s happened in its own store, but also because the government continues to do so little.
“They can do what they have to do,” President Donald Trump said Wednesday when asked about the move. He said that his administration is working on gun control measures with Congress, vaguely saying: “I’d like to see something happen. I’d like to see it happen soon.”
Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon, in his memo announcing the decision, pressed for more.
“We encourage our nation’s leaders to move forward and strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger,” he wrote. “As we’ve seen before, these horrific events occur and then the spotlight fades. We should not allow that to happen. Congress and the administration should act.”
Particularly astonishing about Walmart’s move is its contrast with the fact that so little has changed on guns despite countless massacres.
The specter of gun violence has for years been a central theme of American culture – has stalked books, music and documentaries – while the surrounding world has remained virtually the same.
That’s thanks at least in part to powerful groups such as the National Rifle Association, which has exerted significant influence over the gun-control debate.
And yet, even knowing the opposition and its core customers – so-called real America – Walmart, tellingly, has moved forward anyway.