Beyond Protests, Walmart Is Linchpin to What Gun Legislation Really Means

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With the nation's largest seller of guns refusing to speak out on its pivotal and complex role in the retail reality of potential new gun legislation, gun-control advocates are holding a rally Tuesday outside the Walmart in Danbury, Connecticut — just eight miles from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. The group, called SumOfUs, says it has a petition signed by 250,000 people calling on the giant retailer to stop selling assault weapons in its stores. The protest is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. and will include one of the wounded victims from the 2011 Tucson shooting and the parent of one of the students shot at Virginia Tech.

As smaller retailers are selling out of firearm products and President Obama weighs proposals on legislation and executive action, Walmart has been subject to much of the anger over gun violence since the shootings a month ago, with some calling the chain the linchpin of any serious effort to control firearms in this country. Should the company choose sides in the coming Congressional battle over gun control—either with the NRA or with the White House—they could have tremendous influence over the debate. However, they're also caught in the middle between looking like a company for regular Americans (who enjoy the Second Amendment) and a soulless corporation that doesn't care about dead kids. 

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Walmart's financial interests aren't so cut and dried, either. Big expensive weapons, like the AR-15 and other rifles, are popular sellers that the big-box giant would hate to give up. (The store doesn't sell handguns.) But closing the gunshow loophole would bring them more customers and likely be good for business. After initial reluctance, representatives of the company met with Vice President Joe Biden and his task force last week, but they took no formal position on the administration's proposals.

Shortly after 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, Wal-Mart executives canceled a planned live interview on CNBC. The reason they gave was a scheduling issue, just as was their initial explanation to Biden's schedulers, but anchors were openly speculating that the cancellation has to do with Walmart's reluctance to talk about gun violence out loud.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.