Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest gun retailer in the United States, confirmed Wednesday it will stop selling assault and sporting rifles at its stores. Although the decision came amid an ongoing national discussion about gun control, spokesman Kory Lundberg told Forbes it was not politically motivated.
"We previously carried modern sporting rifles in less than a third of our stores,” Lundberg said. “Our merchandising decisions are driven largely by customer demand. In our everyday course of doing business, we are continually reviewing and adjusting our product assortment to meet our customers’ needs."
The news was picked up online Wednesday hours after a disgruntled former employee fatally shot two Roanoke, Virginia, journalists on camera, then posted online videos of the crime. In a manifesto reportedly sent to ABC News, suspect Vester Lee Flanagan reportedly referenced another high-profile shooting -- the June massacre at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Incidents like those, as well as the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, have caused many politicians and safety advocates to call for improved gun control laws.
Wal-Mart has previously taken action to reduce the number of weapons it sells. Wal-Mart has not sold handguns since 1993. In 2006, the retailer decided to stop selling guns in a third of its stores based on "diminished customer relevancy and demand in these markets," the retailer told the New York Times at the time. But it expanded its gun and ammunition stock three years later.
This past April, a U.S. Court of Appeals reversed a ruling that ordered Wal-Mart to have its shareholders vote on a proposal that could restrict gun sales. The ballot proposal came from Manhattan's Trinity Church, and the company called the verdict "the right decision."
"Our focus as it relates to firearms should be hunters and people who shoot sporting clays and things like that," CEO Douglas McMillon told CNN earlier this year. "We believe in serving those customers. We have for a long time, and we believe we should continue to."