When it comes to gun sales, Wal-Mart apparently has a hair-trigger. The company’s lax policy with regards to selling guns has now caused Wal-Mart to shoot itself in the foot. An investigation launched by the California Attorney General’s office revealed that Wal-Mart allegedly violated the state’s gun laws a double-barreled 2,891 times over a three year study period. That means Wal-Mart illegally sold a gun to someone in California 2.6 times everyday from 2000 to 2003. The company boasts of “everyday low prices”, which in California should have been changed to “everyday guns.” The violations included selling to 23 people prohibited from owning guns, selling guns before waiting for a criminal background check, failing to identify the buyer’s identity, and allowing people to make “straw purchases” on behalf of another person prohibited from owning guns. Wal-Mart violations of gun laws were so bad, the state — at taxpayer expense — set up a special training program for Wal-Mart workers to get them to follow state law. Apparently that training misfired. State agents found so many violations at numerous stores, that Wal-Mart eventually decided to stop selling guns in California. There are only two other states where Wal-Mart doesn’t sell guns — New Jersey and Hawaii. Under the terms of the settlement with the Attorney General, Wal-Mart will pay $14.5 million to the state, plus spend at least $4.5 million to comply with state and federal regulations, plus $3 million for a public relations campaign promoting firearm safety and to encourage other gun dealers to do what Wal-Mart failed to do: check the ages of people buying guns. So instead of its current ‘good neighbor, good jobs’ ads, Wal-Mart will air ads about guns sales to illegal purchasers. Will their ads have a tag line that says, “We’ve violated those gun laws — always.”
Wal-Mart settled this lawsuit less than a week after it was filed. In the end, the company will benefit as much as the public. The California AG said that compliance with the laws was necessary to keep “ex-felons, mentally ill and other prohibited people” from getting weapons. Wal-Mart will save itself more legal bills, because the company has been sued in the past by family members or victims charging that the company sold guns to mentally ill people, who then went out and used the guns to kill other people, or themselves. The most chilling thing about the California case is the implication for the other states that have not audited Wal-Mart’s gun selling policy in their jurisdiction. If the California lawsuit is any indicator, similar violations could be happening all across the nation at thousands of Wal-Mart stores, and people who are not supposed to be walking out with guns, are walking out these stores armed with Wal-Mart guns. Will other Attorney Generals follow suit, and check up on Wal-Mart gun sales, or will the public’s safety continue to be compromised to make a buck.Wal-Mart, by the way, was the largest gun seller in California.