Walmart is removing displays of violent video games and movies in its stores as pressure mounts for the world's largest retailer to act in the wake of two deadly shootings at its locations in Texas and Mississippi in recent weeks.
Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon this week said that the company will be "thoughtful and deliberate in our responses" to the shootings, which left 22 people dead in El Paso, and killed two employees at a store in Southaven, Mississippi.
The company has no plans to stop selling guns or ammunition, spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an interview on Sunday, Aug. 4, a day after the El Paso shooting.
That's not enough for a growing chorus of critics that now includes Sen. and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who tweeted Friday that the retailer should "do the right thing--stop selling guns." Warren showed her support for a rally planned by gun-control advocates this weekend in Florida.
A man armed with a rifle was arrested Thursday at a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri.
Supporters of stricter gun laws have said that Walmart, as one of the nation's biggest sellers of guns and ammunition with more than 4,700 stores, could do more to stem the flow of firearms in the U.S. This week, a worker at Walmart's California-based e-commerce division organized protests against the company's policy.
"Walmart will now become a target for activists," said Ron Culp, an expert on crisis management and former head of public relations at Sears, who now teaches at DePaul University. "Pressure will continue to build so I'd get out in front with some sort of position that goes beyond video games in the store. They have to display leadership on this issue."
Walmart's new rules on video games were outlined in a memo distributed to stores entitled "Immediate Action: Remove Signing and Displays Referencing Violence." The directive also said to:
- Cancel any in-store events promoting "combat style or third-person shooter games that may be scheduled."
- Verify that no violent movies are playing on TVs sold in the electronics department.
- Turn off any hunting-season videos that may be playing in the sporting goods department, and remove any monitors that show the video.
"We've taken this action out of respect for the incidents of the past week, and this action does not reflect a long-term change in our video game assortment," Walmart spokeswoman Tara House said.
Nick Chester, a spokesman for Epic Games, the maker of the popular third-person shooter game Fortnite, declined to comment.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, criticized Walmart's move to restrict images of violent video games.
"Are they aware of some data that video games are causing gun violence?" she said. "It's an NRA talking point."
Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, founded and helps fund Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for universal background checks and other gun violence prevention measures.
Some Walmart staffers expressed skepticism of the move on a popular employee message board. One posted the following: "But we still sell real actual guns. And we're getting rid of virtual violence. Like that's going to help anything."
Walmart -- whose founder, Sam Walton, was an avid hunter -- has shifted its gun policies over the years. It stopped selling handguns in 1993, and in 2015 ceased sales of assault-style rifles. Last year the company raised the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 from 18 after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
The Parkland massacre prompted other big gun retailers, like Dick's Sporting Goods, to also restrict sales.
Shares of Walmart fell as much as 1.3% to $107.15 on Friday. They had gained about 17% this year through Thursday's close.
This article was written by Matthew Boyle, a reporter for Bloomberg. Bloomberg's Karen Lin contributed.