Businesses can play a significant role in helping keep communities in the United States safe from gun violence – here’s how

6/2/2020 – Igor Volsky, Co-founder and Director, Guns Down America

Group of people demonstrating in support of gun safety in the United States

Business Must Act Coalition believes that during a period of US government inaction, businesses have an opportunity - and a moral obligation - to lead the nation on gun reform

In recent years, the American people have recognized that our businesses and business leaders can play a significant role in helping keep our communities safe from gun violence. 

That belief was never more true than when a man, radicalized by anti-immigrant rhetoric, killed 22 people and injured 25 others at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas on 3 August 2019. The nation is still healing from that tragedy, but Walmart’s decision in September of 2019, to significantly step back from gun and ammunition sales, marked a watershed moment in how we as a nation think about building safer communities with fewer guns. 

Walmart acted in response to public demand. In the moments following the August shooting, Guns Down America (GDA) began publicly calling on the megastore to become a more active participant in building safer communities. We recognized that if Walmart used its leverage in on the side of gun safety it could help break the political logjam over this issue by reaching more conservative audiences, advancing cultural change around guns and gun reform, and providing political cover for politicians in more conservative districts. 

Our calls elicited a strong public response, and we immediately began building a coalition of powerful and diverse voices and constituencies to help drive and amplify our campaign, urging Walmart to end gun and ammo sales and lobby Congress on gun reform. 

Seven days after the El Paso shooting, GDA organized and hosted a rally at the Walmart in Parkland, Florida, alongside March For Our Lives, American Federation Of Teachers, MoveOn, and a slew of local organizations. Almost 200 people participated in the rally and it received enormous media coverage across the country.

As public attention focused on the store, we launched the #WalmartMustAct coalition, a partnership between organizations representing millions of Americans across the country. The coalition pursued a multi-prong strategy: We urged Americans to hand-deliver petitions to their local Walmarts, held rallies at Walmarts across the country to generate media and public pressure, and established a channel of communication with top Walmart executives. 

Going into Labor Day Weekend, our coalition collected more than 70,000 petition signatures, with hundreds of petition deliveries at Walmarts nationwide, rallies in five states, media coverage seen by millions, and new online content that highlighted the voices of Walmart associates. 

On Tuesday, 3 September, on the one-month anniversary of the El Paso shooting, Walmart announced that it was ending handgun sales in Alaska (the only place it still sold such firearms), significantly limiting their ammunition sales, and lobbying Congress on gun reform. 

In taking such decisive action, Walmart has set a new bar for what employers must do to keep their employees and customers safe from gun violence. It understood that in a country with more firearms than people, American businesses deal with the consequences of our nation’s loose gun laws first-hand, and as a result must play their part in keeping customers and employees safe from gun violence.

That means having policies that prevent customers bringing firearms into their stores, ending political donations to NRA-backed lawmakers, and investing in community-based violence intervention organizations and programs. 

In December of 2019, Guns Down America and our coalition launched a campaign to urge more companies to take action. The effort, called #BusinessMustAct, unveiled a first-of-its-kind report card that graded companies based on how far they’ve gone to keep us all alive. Businesses with a B or higher are awarded the Gun Safety Certified mark

The mark - developed by Manuel Oliver (father of Joaquin Oliver, one of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting) of Change The Ref and Stop Handgun Violence - is a symbol for brands and business to use to show their support for gun safety and push other corporations to do better.

Of the 29 retailers Business Must Act studied, 25 have experienced an incident of gun violence at their stores -- incidents that undoubtedly impact customer and employee retention, insurance liability rates, and other key business costs and decisions. 

During a period of government inaction, businesses have an opportunity - and a moral obligation - to lead the nation on gun reform. This community has played a critical role in building popular support and changing our cultural understanding around LGBTQ equality and immigration reform. A future with fewer guns in America is possible if we all do our part and keep working towards it together.

Igor Volsky is Co-founder and Director at Guns Down America