Walmart pulled guns and ammunition from its store shelves as a precautionary measure, following the unrest in Philadelphia this week after police fatally shot a Black man more than a dozen times on Monday.
Both weapons and bullets are still available for purchase in the stores that carry them, but customers will have to specifically request the items as opposed to grabbing them from display shelves.
“It’s important to note that we only sell firearms in approximately half of our stores, primarily where there are large concentrations of hunters, sportsmen, and sportswomen,” a Walmart spokesperson said in a statement Thursday.
The retail giant operates 4,700 stores in the U.S.
“We have seen some isolated civil unrest and as we have done on several occasions over the last few years, we have moved our firearms and ammunition off the sales floor as a precaution for the safety of our associates and customers,” the company added.
The killing of Walter Wallace Jr., whose family says they called 911 to summon an ambulance for help as he wandered in and out of traffic carrying a knife during a “psychological episode,” was captured in multiple graphic cellphone videos. They went viral almost immediately, prompting further national outrage over excessive use of force by police, especially when dealing with Black Americans.
In Philadelphia, that outrage spilled into the streets as people railed against the police department in protest. But what started off as peaceful demonstrations quickly turned violent on Monday night.
That led to two days of clashes between law enforcement in helmets and shields and protesters, some of them hurling objects at police. As of Wednesday morning police said 30 officers had been hurt and 81 people were arrested, including 53 for burglary.
The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story, said Walmart had decided to remove firearms and ammunition “aiming to head off any potential theft of firearms if stores are broken into amid social unrest.”
Walmart has taken similar actions in the past, including earlier this year after George Floyd, another Black man, was killed by police in Minneapolis. Several Walmart stores were damaged during the spate of protests that broke out in that city. And after a shooter in El Paso killed 23 people in a Walmart, the retail giant moved to stop selling ammunition that can be used in semi-automatic rifles and handguns.
For the most part, stores in the U.S. stopped selling handguns in the early 1990s. They’re only available for sale in Alaska. In 2015, Walmart discontinued sales of modern sporting rifles, and in 2018, it raised the gun-buying age to 21.
Over the past year, which has been defined by panic over the spread of COVID-19 and waves of social unrest, the appetite for weapons has reached unprecedented demand, that, in many places, can’t keep up with supply. Gunmakers have seen their stock prices trade higher and gun sales have skyrocketed.
Research from the Brookings Institution found that President Trump’s proclamation declaring a national emergency concerning the COVID-19 outbreak on March 13, kicked off a 12-day surge in sales. Average daily sales of firearms jumped from 92,000 in January and February to over 120,000 per day following the coronavirus proclamation.
The National Shooting Sport Foundation, which tracks the background checks associated with sale of a firearm based on the FBI’s background check system, reported that a record 12.1 million people went through the system between January and July. That is up nearly 72% for the same period in 2019. Additionally, NSSF found nearly 5 million Americans purchased a firearm for the very first time in 2020. Fifty-eight percent of those buyers are African-American men and women.