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Walmart’s Gun Decision Is Less Political Than It Looks

NY MAG.COM September 6, 2019 –  Much of the coverage of Walmart’s decision to step back from the guns and ammunition business has focused on how the company is (or is not) aligning itself with its customers’ political and social views. I get why people reach for this frame, since it’s the right one for looking at a lot of the polarizing choices corporations have made lately: Nike’s ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick; Gillette’s choice to urge its customers against toxic masculinity; Equinox’s efforts to distance itself from one of its owners’ political activities, and so on.

But I think this story is different in an important way, and that focusing on the political frame will lead to a misunderstanding of why Walmart made the choice it did.

I don’t think this policy change was mostly about Walmart wanting to send a signal to some customers that it’s aligned with their values and not part of the problem with gun violence in America, though that was probably part of it. I think it’s more about wanting to send a signal to customers and employees that they’re not going to get shot at Walmart.

It’s worth considering what this company and its employees have been through in recent weeks. There was a horrific mass shooting at one of its El Paso stores. As CEO Doug McMillan noted in his announcement of the new policies, there was a workplace shooting at a store in Mississippi just days before that, where a former employee killed two current ones. And then in the aftermath of these shootings, the company has been having to deal with antisocial persons who have been open-carrying their rifles around Walmart stores just to show they legally can, scaring the crap out of Walmart employees and shoppers and often leading them to call the police.

After the El Paso shooting, the Washington Post quoted Erin Rivkind, a customer-service employee at a location in California, who said employees are scouting hiding places in case of a mass shooting and that “we’re all afraid we’re going to die.” Managers and executives are surely hearing these concerns internally, and companies tend to want to make sure their employees aren’t afraid to come to work, especially in a tight labor market like this one, where they can relatively easily get a job somewhere else.

I’m sure people’s personal attitudes about members of the public flaunting rifles in their vicinity are strongly correlated to political attitudes about gun control. But they are not the same thing as political attitudes about gun control. A customer who’s scared to go to Walmart because of the risk of gun violence (or an employee who thinks about quitting for this reason) isn’t necessarily the sort of person who tries to punish companies for having the wrong values. They may just want self-protection. [Read More]

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