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Walmart Pulls Displays for Violent Video Games, Movies After El Paso Mass Shooting Amid Calls for It to Stop Selling Guns

Walmart storeWalmart store, Clarkston, Washington, USA
Francis Dean/Shutterstock

Walmart instructed U.S. stores to remove signage and video displays that show violent imagery or “aggressive behavior,” including ensuring no violent movies are playing on in-store TVs and removing all signs and demos of combat and third-person shooter games.

The retailer’s move comes in the wake of the murder of 22 people in a mass-shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, targeting Hispanics. Also last week, two Walmart workers in Southaven, Miss., were shot and killed July 30 at the company’s store there by a gunman whom authorities said was a disgruntled ex-employee.

However, Walmart continues to sell guns at about half its retail outlets — and said it is not changing the policy about sales of firearms.

The company also is not making any changes to the selection of video games and movies it carries. Over the past week, Donald Trump and other Republicans have blamed video games as somehow contributing to mass shootings, despite the lack of evidence showing a link between real-world crime and games.

In the notice to Walmart stores, the company told managers, “Review your store for any signing or displays that contain violent images or aggressive behavior. Remove from the salesfloor or turn off these items immediately.” It told employees to unplug or turn off demos of violent games, “specifically PlayStation or Xbox units,” and cancel any events for combat-style or third-person shooter games. Walmart also told workers to “verify that no movies depicting violence” are playing in the electronics department and to turn off any “hunting season videos” in the sporting goods section. Vice first reported the news.

“We’ve taken this action out of respect for the incidents of the past week, and it does not reflect a long-term change in our video-game assortment,” a Walmart spokeswoman said in a statement. She added, “We are focused on assisting our associates and their families, as well as supporting the community, as we continue a thoughtful and thorough review of our policies.”

Even with Walmart’s size, the decision to pull in-store displays, demos and promos of video games likely won’t have a major affect on game companies. The industry increasingly relies on digital distribution rather than physical sales: For example, in the second quarter of 2019, digital represented 91% of Take-Two Interactive’s net bookings. Activision Blizzard in Q2 generated 78% of net revenue from online channels, with just 14% represented by retail outlets (and 8% from other distributors).

Walmart sells guns in about half of its 4,750 U.S. stores but ceased sales of assault rifles four years ago. Gun-control advocates, politicians and even some of Walmart’s own employees have stepped up calls for the retail giant to stop selling guns.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), in a tweet Friday, urged Walmart to discontinue firearm sales. “Walmart is one of the largest gun retailers in the world,” she wrote. “The weapons they sell are killing their own customers and employees. No profit is worth those lives. Do the right thing — stop selling guns.”

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, in an Aug. 7 memo to employees about the killings, wrote in part, “We will be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses, and we will act in a way that reflects the best values and ideals of our company.”

Earlier this week, Universal Pictures announced that it would suspend marketing for “The Hunt,” a thriller in which 12 strangers who mysteriously wake up in a forest clearing only to discover that they are being hunted for sport by a group of rich elites, after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

Janko Roettgers contributed to this report.