America’s largest firearms retailer has pledged to stop selling AR-15 assault rifles and other semi-automatic weapons. Walmart says the move is not related to negative publicity around the AR-15s, which have been used in several mass shootings in recent years, but to decreased demand from the public.rn
A Walmart spokesperson told US news outlet Quartz that AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles will be removed from the shelves when the company refreshed its stock with autumn merchandise. The rifles are apparently carried in less than a third of stores, and will be replaced with other weapons.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation says mordern sporting rifles are semi-automatic rifles based on the AR-15. It says they resemble military rifles but work differently, firing just one round with each pull of the trigger. According to the NSSF, this type of weapon is among the most popular firearms sold in the US.
Time magazine has described the AR-15 as a demilitarised version of the M16.
Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg told Quartz that the decision to stop stocking this type of gun was not driven by politics but by reduced consumer demand: “This happens to get more attention because of what the product is, the decision was completely based on what customers are buying and what they want.”
Gun control groups have targeted both Walmart and the AR-15 in the wake of recent shootings. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012 was carried out with a Bushmaster rifle modelled after the AR-15. A shooting at Colorado theatre in the same year also involved an AR-15-style rifle.
Fortune says Walmart’s move comes as US firearms makers struggle with declining sales. It reports that Remington Outdoor Group’s sale of firearms fell 13.3 percent in the first half of the year, while Smith & Wesson’s overall sales saw a 12 percent drop. Fortune says gun sales often spike when gun enthusiasts believe there will be tighter gun laws put in place, then often slip when those concerns pass.
Walmart is a big-box discount retailer with around 11,500 stores around the globe. Listed by revenue, it is the world’s largest company at $486 billion, and also the largest private employer with some two million staff. It has no branches in New Zealand, but its chief executive Greg Foran is a Kiwi who has worked for Countdown and The Warehouse.