Walmart will soon stop the sale of semi-automatic rifles, with the retail giant saying that the removal of the highly politicized items from its shelves is a purely business decision.
Walmart, which is the largest seller of guns and ammunition in the United States, will stop selling the AR-15 and other similar rifles, according to company spokesman Kory Lundberg, stating that the decision to drop the guns from its shelves is due to the low demand for them.
The retail giant will be replacing the guns with other types of rifles, shotguns and other weapons for hunting. Ammunition for the AR-15, however, will still be sold.
"If you have a product customers aren't buying, you phase it out," said Lundberg. Customers "were buying shotguns and rifles, and so we are increasing assortment in that."
The decision of Walmart comes as semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15, remain involved in the national gun debate which was faced with another high-profile shooting with the death of two TV reporters that were shot while conducting an interview in Moneta, Virginia.
The AR-15 has previously been used by gunmen in mass shootings, including in one incident three years ago in a Newtown, Connecticut school.
Lundberg claimed that the decision of Walmart to remove modern sporting rifles, which is the industry term for weapon that look like the M-16 military rifle, has been considered for months. The removal of the firearms from Walmart shelves will begin to take effect this week as the retail giant is updating its sections on sporting goods in time for the coming fall season.
The guns that Walmart has decided to stop selling are sold in only less than one-third of its stores in the United States, which number about 4,500 locations.
Walmart has been selling products such as firearms to serve customers that are sportsmen and hunters. However, the retail giant does not sell pornographic movies, music products that come with warning labels for explicit lyrics and, save for Alaska, handguns. Earlier in the year, Walmart said that it will be removing all merchandise that featured the Confederate flag.
Walmart reduced the variety and number of guns that it has for sale in its stores in 2006, but reintroduced firearms in 2011 in many locations as the company looked to widen merchandise lines being sold to boost growth of sales in the United States.
Even after the shooting in Newtown, which led to the death of 26 people, Walmart said that it would continue selling guns in its stores.
However, Arkadi Gerney, Center for American Progress VP, said that the slowing sales of Walmart was due to the tighter background checks that it had implemented as concern for responsible sales of guns grew within the company.
"They definitely wanted to stay in the market and serve customers who wanted to buy guns, but they were very interested and responsive to ideas about how to make those sales safer and to make it less likely that the guns that they sell were ultimately misused," Gerney said.