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Columns

Everytown for Gun Safety or Walmart?

By Riya Sood
Riya Sood ’20 is a Statistics concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

Taylor Swift makes a single Instagram post about the importance of voting and 65,000 young people register to vote within the next 24 hours.

Chick-fil-A is transparently against BGLTQ rights and thousands across the country decide to boycott the establishment.

The newest name in the all-encompassing political game? Walmart.

On August 3, a mass shooting took place in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas where over 22 people were killed. As with all the other mass shootings that have taken place in the past decade, many in the country were outraged. Families grieved. Activists protested. Rinse. Repeat.

At this point, there is practically a standard set of procedures for when a horrendous event like this takes place. Even the store where the shooting occurred is expected to be reopened in November.

However, since August, Walmart has actually started to take action. Among other things, Walmart has decided to stop selling any handgun ammunition and to stop allowing open carry in its stores nationwide.

We clearly should have seen this coming. When we think of Walmart, what really comes to mind? A cheap nationwide department store? A place where 70 percent of employees leave within one year due to bad working conditions? A working environment where pregnant women allegedly face discrimination?

Of course not — we obviously instead think of it as an activist in the gun-rights debate!

We are in an era when corporations have political views. They display advertisements that take on BGLTQ issues, feminism and women’s rights, racism, and more. They are diversifying their workforces. They are encouraging the usage of sustainable or reusable materials. In this day and age, are you really trying to cater to millennial support if you don’t take on some sort of liberal issue?

And clearly the El Paso shooting was the first time any egregious incident happened in a Walmart, otherwise they would have taken action sooner, of course. It’s not as though over 200 violent crimes take place in Walmart stores each year. Or that Walmart is one of the largest nationwide sellers of guns and ammunition in a country that has been facing terrible problems with gun violence for years now. And it’s definitely not as though guns are actually a dying industry in big department stores and others have stopped selling them due to low profit margins.

Obviously, Walmart has gotten involved in this debate for the completely right, genuine reasons.

The chain is not being pressured to take this response, nor is it trying to continue catering to the millennial access that it has been struggling to gain for many years now. This is just a spontaneous value-shift that we would expect from such an establishment.

For all its flaws though, we know that this move will likely have some impact. Walmart is the biggest retailer in America, so any change to its product line will be noticed by Americans. For the most part, executives in America haven’t taken a stance on gun violence. Walmart CEO C. Doug McMillon’s decision to get involved in this debate and also to start communicating with Congress about necessary policy changes could start a new trend among businesses.

Ultimately, though, this just exposes how desperate we are as a country for anyone or anything to take a stand.

When we decide to take global warming more seriously, will Macy’s be leading the charge? When the next global health crisis takes place, will we look to Walgreens to ignite a call for action? When we start giving the necessary attention to the school-to-prison pipeline among black students, will it be because Target forced us to acknowledge the issue?

At this point though, we will take what we can get. Our president chooses to smile when taking photos with victims of gun violence. His response to mass shootings is to call for expedited death penalties for mass shooters — many of whom commit suicide after committing their atrocities anyway.

So as opportunistic and inauthentic as Walmart’s “stance” likely is, it is action — there was a terrible shooting in an El Paso Walmart where 22 people died and an additional 24 were injured, activists called upon Walmart to take a stand against gun violence, and Walmart responded by deciding to stop selling handgun ammunition and to press Congress to increase background checks. While there is more that could have been done, this is at least one step.

And at least if (when) the next shooting happens, we know who to turn to for action — not our government or our politicians, but instead to our private retailers who are evidently more willing to take action.

Riya Sood ’20 is a Statistics concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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