Weeks after two Walmart stores became the scenes of deadly shootings, employees and customers continued to urge the retailer to overhaul its gun policies.
On Tuesday, Walmart employee Thomas Marshall sent a petition to chief executive Doug McMillon calling on the retailer to stop all sales of firearms and ammunition, ban the public from carrying firearms into stores and end all donations to politicians backed by the National Rifle Association. The petition had grown by Wednesday morning to more than 129,160 signatures, signaling sustained pressure on one of the nation’s largest retailers of firearms and ammunition.
“Customers no longer feel as safe as they once did in our stores,” Marshall wrote in a note to McMillon. “We must do more. We have the power to do more.”
McMillon responded to Marshall’s note Wednesday morning, Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said, to reiterate that the company is listening to a wide variety of perspectives and considering how it might respond. The retailer also is “encouraging others” to consider what actions they could take on gun issues, though Hargrove wouldn’t specify whom he meant.
Hargrove emphasized that safety was Walmart’s priority and that it would take time to “think through this issue.” Since the shootings earlier this month, Walmart has not instituted any policy changes related to firearms or security.
“In the national conversation around gun safety, we’re encouraged that broad support is emerging to strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger,” McMillon said after Walmart released its earnings this month. “We must also do more to understand the root causes that lead to this type of violent behavior.”
Despite its growing number of signatures, the petition also drew consternation. Comments posted to the Change.org Web page included calls to fire any employee who participated in a walkout, and arguments that Walmart’s policies alone are not enough to end the shootings.
Calls on Walmart to end gun sales spread to Twitter, with critics circulating the hashtag #WalmartMustAct. They included Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) who tweeted that he was “calling on Walmart to stop selling firearms in their stores.”
In an interview Wednesday with The Washington Post, Marshall said he hoped to spur a conversation about the role that retailers — not just legislators — play in gun issues. He noted that Walmart has changed its firearms policies in the past, such as when it phased out military-style rifles in 2015.
“That’s why a lot of us were surprised, and in fact disappointed, that there was not a response of that kind after these most recent tragedies,” Marshall said.
Marshall, 23, said he felt supported by employees and others, particularly younger people who’ve grown up under the rising threat of mass shootings. He also helped organize a walkout two weeks ago of roughly 40 white-collar Walmart employees in San Bruno, Calif. Workers at Walmart’s e-commerce offices in Portland, Ore., and Brooklyn also pressed the company to stop selling firearms and end donations to politicians who receive funding from the National Rifle Association.
An operations manager who joined the protest said he believes in the Second Amendment but that “I don’t understand how that has included weapons of mass destruction” like assault rifles. The employee, Tom Misner, said Walmart should use its influence to lobby Congress for better gun control laws. “Congress will not do anything,” he said.
Earlier this month, a gunman killed 22 people and wounded dozens of others at a Walmart store in El Paso. Just days before, two Walmart employees were fatally shot at a store in Southaven, Miss. A former employee was charged in that shooting.
Another incident fanned growing public anxiety around mass shootings. Less than two weeks ago, an armed man sowed panic when he entered a Walmart in Springfield, Mo., wearing body armor and carrying a loaded military-style rifle. He said he wanted to test whether his Second Amendment rights would be honored in a public area, according to police.
Walmart sells guns in about half of its 4,750 U.S. stores. The company stopped selling handguns in 1993. Last year, after 17 students and teachers were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Walmart raised the minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, another major gun retailer, also changed its sales policies, ending the sale of military-style weapons and banning high-capacity magazines and “bump stocks” that could effectively convert semiautomatic weapons into machine guns. Dick’s also announced it would not sell firearms to people younger than 21.
Employees at major tech and retail companies have increasingly spoken out against corporate policies in the past few years. Amazon, Google and Microsoft workers, for example, have urged their executives to stop selling facial recognition technology and other services to law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)
And in June, hundreds of Wayfair employees walked out to protest the sale of $200,000 worth of furniture to a Texas detention center that houses migrant children.
Abha Bhattarai contributed to this report.