In the last two decades, the deep-pocketed NRA has increasingly relied on the support of another constituency: the $12-billion-a-year gun industry, made up of manufacturers and sellers of firearms, ammunition and related wares.
That alliance was sealed in 2005, when Congress, after heavy NRA lobbying, approved a measure that gave gun makers and gun distributors broad, and unprecedented, immunity from a wave of liability lawsuits related to gun violence in America’s cities.
It was a turning point for both the NRA and the industry, both of which recognized the mutual benefits of a partnership. That same year, the NRA also launched a lucrative new fundraising drive to secure “corporate partners” that’s raked in millions from the gun industry to boost its operations.
In 2006, the Walmart announced that it was rolling back gun sales, citing declining profit margins on the relatively expensive weapons, which even at Walmart can retail for hundreds of dollars. But in 2011, company executives were looking at eight straight quarters of declining sales at stores open for a year or more—the worst slump in Walmart’s history.
Walmart did take notice that Barack Obama’s inauguration had sparked a rally in gun sales, which have steadily increased every year since 2008. Remember the rallying cry from the NRA was Obama is coming for your guns, but I have yet to see Obama coming for anyone’s guns. Walmart helped to fuel the fear because it was economically in their best interests to do so.
The government isn’t allowed to track firearm sales, but the FBI does release figures on how many retailers ask it to run background checks—a relatively reliable indicator of total gun sales, although likely a lowball estimate, since a person can buy multiple guns on a single background check, and many gun shows aren’t required to perform such checks. In 2007, retailers asked the FBI for just over 11 million background checks; by the end of 2009, 14 million checks were requested—a 27 percent increase.
Walmart knew what the increase in background checks meant, it meant that guns sales were on the increase and they wanted to make sure they were prepared. Guns meant profit and Walmart’s profits were not doing so well.
In April 2011, Walmart began stocking guns in more and more stores, expanding the sales to 1,750 outlets nationwide. By the end of that year, the FBI received 16.4 million background check requests; the number is 16.8 million for 2012. Overall Walmart sales figures are back on track after the 2011 slump, and executive vice president Duncan Mac Naughton told shareholders at a meeting in October 2012 that gun sales in particular are a staple of the chain’s strategy to continue boosting its numbers. He said that over the past twenty-six months, gun sales at Walmart stores open for a year or more were up an astonishing 76 percent, while ammunition sales were up 30 percent. Walmart is now the biggest seller of firearms and ammunition in America.
The move belies Walmart and the Walton family’s support of pro-gun politicians and the company’s reliance on gun sales.
While Walmart uses guns to boost its sales and the Waltons make billions off of Walmart, they continue working behind the scenes through political giving and the Walton Family Foundation’s membership in ALEC to undermine public safety.
Walmart'srole as the nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition has been widely reported; their role in supporting a pro-gun political agenda has not been widely understood.
Between the 2010 and 2012 federal election cycles, Walmart's PAC gave just over $1 million to candidates endorsed by the NRA, based on our analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics and NRA Political Victory Fund grades and endorsements. The Waltons gave another half a million to NRA-endorsed federal politicians over that time period, including super PAC funds. In fact, among politicians with 2012 grades from the NRA, 87% of the Waltons’ 2010-2012 cycle contributions went to candidates with scores between A+ and A-.
Beyond their direct support for NRA-endorsed candidates, Walmart and the Walton family have also helped support a pro-gun agenda through their participation in the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, a membership organization made up primarily of companies and conservative state legislators, produces right-wing model legislation that is then introduced in state legislatures nationwide.
ALEC’s pro-gun efforts have included opposing bans on semi-automatic weapons and opposing waiting periods for background checks. ALEC also helped propagate the notorious “Stand Your Ground” law linked to the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The “Stand Your Ground” law, which initially shielded Martin’s shooter from arrest in weeks following the killing, came out of an ALEC working committee co-chaired by a Walmart executive Janet Scott in 2005.
Of course Walmart opposes bans on semi-automatic weapons and background checks, semi-automatic weapons have a higher profit margin and they want the gun sale to be instantaneous, they want the guns out of the store and on the street where they can create more mass shootings because mass shootings are good for business.
Last year, amid public pressure, Walmart withdrew from ALEC. The Walton Family Foundation is still a member of ALEC.