Walmart Takes a Stand on Guns, Gay Rights to Get People to Like It More

Courtesy of Mike Mozart/Flickr

By Sarah Nassauer | The Wall Street Journal |

A week after February’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Walmart Inc. executives huddled inside the company’s headquarters to discuss how they should sell guns.

President Donald Trump tweeted support for raising the minimum age to buy guns to 21. Florida Republicans voiced similar wishes. Walmart executives knew the company, one of the country’s largest sellers of guns, could be ensnared in the debate, one executive said, and they worried about a potential patchwork of state laws. Publicly, the company stayed quiet.

A week later, the chief executive of Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. made an emotional announcement on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the chain would increase its gun-buying age to 21. That evening, Walmart said it would do the same, but not before executives warned some allies who might take issue with the stance, including Asa Hutchinson, the governor of the company’s home state of Arkansas, said a person familiar with the call.

Political divide in the country is creating a new landscape for business, in which fierce debates often lead consumers and employees to demand that corporations and chief executives take positions on big issues. That is increasingly pulling Walmart, the world’s largest retailer and largest private employer, into weighing in on issues such as immigration, the Confederate flag and gay rights—generally after other companies or politicians have done the same.

In the past, “the CEO rule was basically keep your head down, stay out of complicated issues, because there were opinions on both sides of any issue,” said Lawrence Parnell, associate professor at the strategic public relations program at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, who also consults with companies on the topic.

“It’s no longer a question of if, but where, when and how to engage on these issues and what type of topics to engage on,” he added. “These are new challenges and things CEOs and boards never had to deal with before, so they are struggling.”

Last August, after one person was killed at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., critics protested that President Donald Trump didn’t condemn the violence strongly enough. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier announced that he was leaving Mr. Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, saying in a statement on the company’s Twitter account that “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.” Other CEOs, including from Intel and Under Armour , followed his departure from the council.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal.