Saturday’s shooting at a Walmart Supercenter in El Paso, Tex., that left 22 dead and dozens injured has once again shown the relative ease with which firearms can be bought in the U.S., and the holes in what passes for a safety net and allows them to end up in the wrong hands.
Walmart Inc. said on Monday that it’s not changing the procedures and policies it has in place around buying firearms, and asked whether Walmart is considering no longer selling guns, a spokesman said, “No, not at this time.”
“Our focus has remained on being a responsible gun retailer and adhering to our procedures and policies. I’ve been asked about this. Our focus is on our customers and associates and the entire El Paso community. We’re reminding our associates that their safety is our primary concern,” said the spokesman, adding that two Walmart sales associates were injured on Saturday and are recovering.
About half of Walmart’s 4,756 stores sell firearms, according to the spokesman. Walmart in 2015 stopped selling modern sporting rifles, and in 2018, ceased sales of products on its web site that resembled assault-type weapons. The retailer in 2018 raised the age for sales of firearms and ammunition to 21, from 18.
“In terms of the waiting period, we go above what the federal law stipulates,” the spokesman said. “After a period of time, if you haven’t received a response to your application, you can go forward with sale. We only sell once we get the approval. The federal waiting period is 72 hours.”
The retailer provides computer-based active shooter training to associates as part of their orientation, and then on a quarterly basis. Virtual reality last month was added to the learning module, which was created in partnership with law enforcement agencies and Texas State University’s Alert program.
Jeffrey Zisner, CPP, president and chief executive officer of Aegis Security & Investigations, has trained several thousand people in active shooter response and helps retailers determine and mitigate their vulnerabilities. He said in some cases, he’s adding Stop the Bleed training to modules.
“The priority is having options and practicing good situational awareness,” Zisner said. “Buy yourself time. The way you can do that is by evacuating or creating barriers by locking down. The preference is to evacuate, but if you don’t know where the threat is coming from, locking down is acceptable.”
Zisner said the size of Walmart’s workforce makes live training prohibitively expensive. “Walmart with 1.5 million employees for a four-hour live class to roll out training would be more than $120 million. The barrier to getting a massive organization like that trained is pretty high. It would be logistically complicated to have a standardized program.”
Joseph LaRocca, president of RetaiLPartners and a former vice president and senior adviser to the National Retail Federation, said a program developed by the Department of Homeland Security in 2008 following a series of shootings at shopping centers, is still widely used today.
“It’s a very effective and simple way of educating employees and the public on how to respond to an active shooter,” LaRocca said, noting that the shorthand is run, hide, fight. “When shots ring out, you should run away from shots and hide,” he said. “If you can’t run away, take safe refuge — hopefully behind something metal or under racks of products.
The scariest part of the program is coming into contact with the assailant and “fighting any way you can,” LaRocca said. “You might take a chair, fire extinguisher, stapler, knife or boxcutter — anything you can use in a worst-case scenario, even your hands. We tell people to shut off their phones. Active shooters in most cases have really thought through the crime and location. They’re coming prepared.”
The events in El Paso underscore the fact that stores are soft targets. “Retailers are one of the few places in society where you’re always welcome,” LaRocca said.