AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Walmart was the scene of one of the two mass shootings this past weekend. The gunman in El Paso, Texas, killed 22 people and injured dozens more. This has, once again, put the spotlight on Walmart as a seller of guns, prompting new calls from gun control advocates for big-box retailers to stop selling weapons and ammunition. NPR's Alina Selyukh reports.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Walmart actually had to respond to not one but two shootings last week. Last Tuesday, two Walmart workers in Mississippi were shot and killed. Then came Saturday's massacre in Texas. The corporate Twitter account posted, we are in shock and praying for victims, responders and the community. And immediately, reactions poured in from social media users, including celebrities like Alyssa Milano, saying this was an opportunity for Walmart to take a stand and stop selling guns.
DAVID CHIPMAN: All of these big-box stores, just because of the sheer numbers of guns that they sell, are susceptible to criminals obtaining guns in their stores.
SELYUKH: David Chipman is with the gun control advocacy group Giffords Law Center, founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who'd survived an attempted assassination in a shooting in 2011. Since then, several other high-profile shootings have pushed retailers to reconsider gun-related policies. Dick's Sporting Goods stopped selling guns to people under 21 and pulled all semi-automatic rifles off the shelves. Those are the kinds of guns that have been used in many of the recent mass shootings. Walmart
stopped selling handguns in the '90s but in recent years also phased out semiautomatic rifles and raised the gun buying age requirement to 21. The company says it does not plan any new changes at the moment. It remains one of the largest sellers of firearms and ammunition in the country.
PHILIP COOK: When people are asked in national surveys, where did they acquire their most recent gun? - most of them say they bought it at a store.
SELYUKH: That's Duke University professor Philip Cook talking about Americans buying legally. That's usually through licensed dealers, which could mean a big-box store or a smaller, local one. Cook says other legal options, like online sales where they're delivered to a local dealer or gun shows, tend to be less popular.
COOK: Where criminals get their guns is entirely different.
SELYUKH: Cook, Chipman and other experts all cited a 2016 study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, which surveyed criminals who have been arrested. It's important to note that mass shootings are still a fairly small fraction of gun violence in America, which includes domestic disputes, robberies and other street crime. In that 2016 survey, only 7% of criminals said they'd bought a gun under their own name from a licensed dealer like a store. Most of them stole it, got it from someone they know or bought it on the street. Now, criminals who commit mass shootings, they are a whole different story. Here's Chipman from Giffords Center.
CHIPMAN: Oftentimes, mass shooters acquire guns from gun stores, sometimes from private sellers. But unfortunately, there isn't a hard and fast number about that.
SELYUKH: He says that's because laws restrict law enforcement from sharing a lot of data, and so the argument about ending sales at major retail chains can get tricky. One major concern is that taking guns out of reputable stores might send more buyers into the less-regulated private sales and online markets. But some argue that fewer guns in big-box stores could help prevent suicides. Suicides still account for the majority of gun deaths in America and tend to involve legally acquired guns.
Alina Selyukh, NPR News.
CORNISH: And we want to note that Walmart is one of NPR's financial supporters.
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