Acknowledging that it underestimated the Obama administration's expectations about its involvement in gun control talks, Walmart said Wednesday company representatives would attend a meeting at The White House on Thursday to discuss firearms.
Walmart initially declined to have a representative attend the White House meeting, citing scheduling conflicts in a statement given to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
"Knowing our senior leaders could not be in Washington this week, we spoke in advance with the Vice President’s office to share our perspective. We underestimated the expectation to attend the meeting on Thursday in person, so we are sending an appropriate representative to participate," Walmart spokesman David Tovar said in a statement released late Wednesday morning. When asked for comment by The Huffington Post, a spokesman referred to the press release and didn't respond to further questions.
Walmart, the nation's largest gun retailer, also for the first time acknowledged publicly that it has been engaged in "ongoing conversations" with the White House and Congress after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.
The White House task force, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, is charged with coming up with new proposals to regulate guns and will also include representatives from the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation in its meetings on Thursday.
Walmart currently sells firearms in more than 1,750, or roughly half, of its U.S. stores, though in recent years the company has seemed to waver on its commitment to selling guns. In 2011, five years after restricting gun sales to only a third of its stores, the retailer reintroduced firearms to many locations, citing customer demand.
Experts told The Huffington Post this week that despite appearances, tighter regulations on guns could benefit Walmart. One key proposal Biden is expected to put forth would force independent gun sellers to go to certified dealers like Walmart to conduct background checks on customers and process their transactions. If passed, such a law could send people who previously traded guns at shows and in their homes to Walmart stores, propelling the company's already skyrocketing gun sales even higher, experts say.
Currently, federal law allows individuals to sell guns to others without performing background checks or keeping records of the sale.
“If we instituted universal background checks, that would cut down the number of kitchen-table dealers and of course benefit places like Walmart,” said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit that lobbies for gun control. Such a policy would also make it harder for criminals to obtain guns, and thus "be part of a solution to a problem that has existed for decades," he said.
Other gun control measures likely being considered by Biden's committee would have a more certain negative impact on Walmart. Renewing the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, for example, would affect sales at the company, according to Rommel Dionisio, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. Dionisio estimates that Walmart, as the largest seller of firearms, is also a major seller of those tactical rifles which may soon be subject a ban.
The retail giant alone makes up 13 percent of total sales for Freedom Group, the manufacturer of the Bushmaster rifle used by the shooter in the Sandy Hook rampage, Freedom Group disclosed in a September earnings report.
But Walmart's clout in the industry is also what makes gun-control advocates so eager to get the company to join their side. "The bottom line is that Walmart is huge,” said Garen Wintemute, the director of the Violence Prevention research program at the University of California at Davis and a practicing emergency medicine physician. “It would be a very promising development if they would step up and do the right thing."
Advocates hope the company will consider the good PR it could gain by supporting the White House's initiatives. “I would think for Walmart it would be good policy and good business,” said Sugarmann. “I’ll add that if they’re going to choose to be a good public citizen, they should make it a policy not to sell assault weapons.”
It wouldn't be the first time Walmart's come down on the side of gun control. The company attracted the ire of pro-gun groups in 2008 when it partnered with Mayors against Illegal Guns to tighten gun sales restrictions. At the time, the NRA denounced the company's actions as “a public relations stunt” designed to “curry favor with politicians.”
If implemented, universal background checks would likely function as they do in California, where private sales of guns have been regulated for over 20 years, according to Phil Cook, a professor of economics and public policy at Duke University. In that state, almost all gun sales are required to be processed through certified dealers.
For some gun stores in the state, the background checks are a way to solicit new business from customers who end up buying ammunition and accessories, according to Charles Huntington, the owner of Huntington's Sportman's Store in Oroville, Calif. Still, Huntington says it's difficult for most stores to turn a profit from the time-consuming service, whose fees are capped at $10 per gun by law.
"I would be amazed if Walmart supported a national registration system," said Huntington. "It's too much of a hassle and there's no profit in it."
Yet Walmart, which does not currently sell firearms in California, would also be more equipped than smaller retailers to streamline and perhaps even monetize background checks. In the 2008 partnership with Mayors against Illegal Guns, the company agreed to a slew of new rules that went beyond the requirements of the law: videotaping transactions, implementing a computerized system that logs purchasers' crime histories and performing background checks on employees.
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Barbie's <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Barbies-Friend-Midge-Pregnant-Tummy/dp/B0006M1ANI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355852020&sr=8-1&keywords=pregnant+barbie">pregnant friend Midge</a> was pulled from Walmart shelves <a href="http://blogs.static.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/34728.html">after customers complained</a>. This item is still banned from Walmart stores.
<a href="http://blogs.static.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/34728.html">Walmart banned</a> Prince's 1988 album <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Lovesexy-Explicit/dp/B002C7GBQG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1355852260&sr=8-2&keywords=lovesexy">Lovesexy</a> because of the album's cover. This CD is currently not sold in Walmart stores.
The Morning After Pill
Walmart <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/12-goods-that-make-walmarts-blacklist-2010-10?op=1">refused to sell the morning-after pill</a> between the years 1999 and 2006, until <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/03/03/health/main1369355.shtml">a lawsuit </a>forced them to sell the drug, and it is sold in Walmart stores today.
America: The Book
Walmart said <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Daily-Show-Stewart-Presents-America/dp/B0047PBRJW/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355854859&sr=1-11&keywords=jon+stewart+america">The Daily Show's book </a>was banned because of its photoshopped naked<a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2004-10-19-stewart-book_x.htm"> pictures of Supreme Court Justices</a>. The book is currently not sold in Walmart stores.
Al Snow Action Figure
<a href="http://www.amazon.com/WWE-Classic-Superstar-Collector-Series/dp/B0014P16HG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1355855045&sr=8-2&keywords=al+snow">This action figure</a> was banned after two professors at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University complained that the mannequin head<a href="http://blogs.static.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/34728.html"> the character and action figure carry</a> around promotes violence against women. This item is not currently sold at Walmart.
All of Marilyn Manson's music and DVDs are <a href="http://xfinity.comcast.net/slideshow/news-bannedfromwalmart/11/">banned from Walmart</a>. Marilyn Manson's music is still banned from Walmart stores today.
Racy Men's Magazines
Walmart does not carry what it calls "lad mags" or <a href="http://xfinity.comcast.net/slideshow/news-bannedfromwalmart/11/">racy men's magazines</a> like FHM, Maxim, and Stuff. This ban is still in effect today.
Sheryl Crow's Debut Album
Walmart banned <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Sheryl-Crow/dp/B000002G62/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1355858011&sr=8-8&keywords=sheryl+crow">this album</a> because one song on the CD <a href="http://www.eonline.com/news/33553/wal-mart-bans-sheryl-crow-s-next-album">contained the following lyrics</a>: "Watch out sister/Watch out brother/Watch our children as they kill each other/with a gun they bought at the Walmart discount stores." This CD is not currently sold in Walmart stores.
Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War
Walmart <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/24069/the_wal-mart_thought_police">refuses to carry</a> this <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Uncovered-Whole-Truth-About-Iraq/dp/B0001IXT36/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355858320&sr=8-1&keywords=uncovered+whole+truth+iraq">documentary</a> about the Iraq War in its stores. However, the DVD is currently available for purchase on Walmart's website.
George Carlin's Book
Walmart deemed <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Bring-Chops-George-Carlin/dp/B004SUZ72E/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355858439&sr=1-3&keywords=george+carlin+jesus">this book </a>to be<a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/10/28/news/newsmakers/walmart_carlin/"> too provocative to sell</a>. However, the book is currently available for purchase on Walmart's website.
Goo Goo Dolls Album
<a href="http://www.amazon.com/A-Boy-Named-Goo-Dolls/dp/B000002MUE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355858670&sr=8-1&keywords=a+boy+names+goo">This album</a> was banned <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/24069/the_wal-mart_thought_police">because of its cover art</a>. This CD is not currently for sale at Walmart.
Green Day's Album
This <a href="http://www.amazon.com/21st-Century-Breakdown-Green-Day/dp/B001SAQVDQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355862288&sr=8-1&keywords=21st+century+breakdown">Green Day album</a> was banned because the band<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/21/green-day-vs-walmart_n_206225.html"> refused to edit their lyrics</a>. The CD is still not available for sale at Walmart.