Some Walmart employees are joining a growing number of people calling for the nation’s biggest retailer to stop selling guns or help curb gun violence following two mass shootings that left at least 31 people dead.
Organizers of the protest have asked their colleagues to walk off the job Wednesday afternoon to pressure Walmart to do more to end the gun violence that has shaken the country after 22 people were killed at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, followed by another mass shooting that left nine dead in Dayton, Ohio.
Thomas Marshall, a Walmart category specialist in San Bruno California, who sent the initial messages calling for a protest, said that “many employees” called in sick or wore black on Tuesday.
“The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we have already begun to organize additional demonstrations,” Marshall said in an emailed response to USA TODAY,
But Walmart disagreed with that assessment of how employees responded.
“We’re only aware of two people who participated in the protest and those are the organizers, and both of those individuals came into the office yesterday but were not at their work stations,” said Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove. “There’s no indication of unusual call-ins or attendance yesterday.’’
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Hargrove added that “there are many more constructive avenues for associates to offer feedback, such as email or leader conversations, and the vast majority of associates who want to share their views are taking advantage of those options.”
Since the mass shootings, the founder of Guns Down America has said on Twitter and in interviews that Walmart should stop selling guns, and support other measures such as gun buybacks, to spur change in the nation’s gun policies. Actress and advocate Alyssa Milano also took to Twitter the day of the El Paso shooting to call on Walmart to end gun sales.
And in an open letter to Walmart’s chief executive officer, Doug McMillon, that posted Monday, New York Times columnist and CNBC “Squawk Box” co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin called on the retailer to use its leverage with institutions like JP Morgan Chase Bank and Apple to help stem gun violence.
On Monday, Marshall messaged Walmart colleagues through email and Slack, noting that Walmart had previously imposed more stringent rules around gun sales, such as raising the age to make a purchase from 18 to 21.
“By voicing our concern as associates we would hopefully be able to influence leadership and company culture as a whole to take a defiant stance against gun violence, especially in the wake of the recent tragedies that hit so close to home for us,” Marshall wrote.
Marshall says he and other organizers were locked out of their email accounts.
“Walmart has completely deactivated our access and accounts. We have been shut out of all systems, essentially ending our jobs without yet firing us,” Marshall said in an email. “We will be seeking legal counsel in this matter.”
Walmart’s Hargrove says that “company channels are provided to help employees do their work … When he returns to work, he will regain access to the channels pending review of the circumstances.’’
Some gun control advocates have praised Walmart’s previous efforts to be more restrictive, including halting the sale of handguns in the early 1990s, ending the sales of modern sporting rifles in 2015, and raising the age of those who could buy firearms to 21 in 2018.
But Walmart said this week that it doesn’t plan to stop selling guns.
The nation has seen a rash of shootings in recent days, reigniting debate about the need for gun control as well a conversation about the rise of white supremacy.
Just days before Saturday’s mass shooting in Texas, two people were shot and killed in a Walmart store in Southaven, Mississippi. That same week, three people were shot and killed at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California.