As the US braces for possible election turmoil, the country’s largest retailer has quietly removed guns from view of customers.
Walmart says it has removed firearms and ammunition from displays at its stores, citing “civil unrest” in some areas.
The retail giant, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, sells guns in about half of its 4,700 stores. But with continued violence in some cities and the threat of civil unrest following next week’s election, Walmart has pulled the weapons from its shelves.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the company sent a note to store managers this week telling them to temporarily remove all guns and ammunition from display “out of an abundance of caution”.
“We have seen some isolated civil unrest and as we have done on several occasions over the last few years, we have moved our firearms and ammunition off the sales floor as a precaution for the safety of our associates and customers,” Walmart said in a statement Thursday (local time).
The company said the items remain available for purchase upon request by customers.
The move comes after several days of protests, widespread vandalism and an overnight curfew in Philadelphia, after police fatally shot a black man with a history of mental health problems.
Walmart made a similar move in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd that set off sometimes violent demonstrations against police brutality and systemic injustice against African Americans.
The latest decision also comes amid a growing concern about voter intimidation on election day and civil unrest being stoked by president Trump’s claims of voter fraud and baseless assertions that his rivals are trying to steal the election.
Research and surveys conducted this year show an alarming increase in the number of Americans who think political violence is justified if the other side wins.
Last year, Walmart stopped selling handgun and short-barrel rifle ammunition while requesting that customers not openly carry firearms in its stores, even where state laws allow it.
The company also ended the sale of handguns in Alaska, the only state where its stores sold them.
Earlier this month, the FBI reported background checks for firearm purchases hit an annual record, with three months still to go in the year, since it started conducting them more than 20 years ago.
‘Absolutely terrifying’: Voter advocates hoping to stave off intimidation at polls
During the presidential debates President Trump encouraged one far-right extremist group to “stand back and stand by” and called for an army of “poll watchers” to keep tabs on polling places.
While gun rights advocates say fears of violence at the polls are unfounded, the toxic political atmosphere and the prospect of armed poll monitors have some worried it will keep voters from the polls and affect the election.
“Just as an American, the fact that we’re having this conversation is absolutely terrifying to me,” American University professor Kurt Braddock, who researches extremist groups, told the Associated Press this week.
“It’s a testament to how far the extreme right has come with getting into this conversation and impacting the way that politics get done here.”
Federal and state law enforcement officials are expanding preparations for the possibility of widespread unrest at the polls. FBI and local officials in several states have been conducting drills and setting up command centres.
Only six states plus the District of Columbia expressly prohibit carrying a firearm or other deadly weapon to a polling place. Some other states ban carrying a firearm concealed but have no such restrictions on openly carrying a handgun or long gun. Federal law bans firearms at schools, so polling places at those are off limits.
On Wednesday, a judge blocked an attempt to ban the open carry of guns near polling places in the battleground state of Michigan.
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