Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, confirmed Wednesday that it has been working to phase out sales of assault rifles in its fleet of big-box stores.
Wal-Mart said it made the decision this spring to start taking modern sporting rifles, or "MSRs," off its shelves. The company says the move was not made in response to political clashes about gun violence but rather is a reflection waning customer interest in these products.
"We're focusing on other hunting and sportsman firearms, such as shotguns and rifles, based on customer demand," said Kory Lundberg, a Wal-Mart spokesman.
The Bentonville, Ark.,-based chaincarried MSRs in about one-third of its 4,588 stores nationwide. The company said that this category of weapon, which includes items such as AR-15s, will be fully phased out of its stores in about a week as the chain resets its merchandise displays for the fall season.
While Wal-Mart said its decision was based on sales, the move is likely to become a talking point in a simmering national debate about gun policy, which heated up earlier this year in the wake of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that left nine dead. The issue may come to the fore again after a Wednesday shooting in Virginia in which two journalists were killed during a live television broadcast. Activists were especially critical of MSR-style weapons in the aftermath of the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 teachers and students dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Shooter Adam Lanza used an AR-15 rifle in that attack.
Wal-Mart has recently received pressure from shareholder Trinity Church in New York to reconsider its gun sales policy. The church last year filed a lawsuit that aimed to force the retailer to allow a shareholder vote on Trinity's proposal for the board of directors to more closely review Wal-Mart's decision to sell weapons with high-capacity magazines.
After a federal judge initially ruled that Wal-Mart must allow the shareholder vote, an appeals court later lifted that injunction, meaning Wal-Martwill not be required to include this proposal at its upcoming annual shareholders meeting.