The effort to discourage customers from openly bringing firearms into stores, which other companies, like Starbucks and Target, have tried in recent years, could prove challenging and divisive. Store workers will have to be trained how to request that customers not openly carry their weapons, and the laws can vary by state.
The new policy stops short of banning open carry. Rather, Walmart said it would begin “respectfully requesting” that customers not bring their weapons along while they shop, unless they are concealed.
How the company, which as a private entity has the right to restrict the possession of guns inside its stores, intends to enforce the new policy is murky. The spokesman said employees would take a “nonconfrontational” approach. In some cases, the store may say nothing to customers with weapons if they seem innocuous. If customers or employees feel unsafe around someone openly carrying a gun, the store will contact the authorities, Dan Bartlett, Walmart’s executive vice president for corporate affairs, said during a call with reporters.
Shortly after Walmart’s announcement, the grocery chain Kroger said it too was requesting that its customers not carry weapons into its stores.
Regarding open carry in Walmart’s stores, Mr. McMillon cited “multiple incidents since El Paso, where individuals attempting to make a statement and test our response have entered our stores carrying weapons in a way that frightened or concerned our associates and customers.”
“These incidents are concerning and we would like to avoid them,” he added.
Some experts said the new policy might have the opposite effect, inspiring supporters of gun rights to openly bring firearms into Walmart stores.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see people force a confrontation and try to ruffle Walmart’s feathers,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of “Gun Fight: the Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.” “The store employees are the ones who will have to solve the problem without getting themselves shot.”