Journalist tests Walmart on gun sales. Hilarity ensues.

Nothing that transpires in Hayley Peterson’s attempt to test Walmart’s firearms-sale practices would come as a surprise to anyone who ever (a) bought a firearm and/or (b) ever shopped at a Walmart. To the credit of this Business Insider reporter, she reaches the appropriate conclusion of her quixotic adventure, which turned out quite differently than she expected. “Walmart takes gun sales and security pretty seriously,” she concludes.


But what a long, strange trip it’d been:

More than 128,000 people have signed a petition urging Walmart to stop selling guns and take a stronger stance against firearms since the shootings at stores in El Paso, Texas, and Southaven, Mississippi. But the company has said it has no plans to stop selling them.

I went to Walmart with the intention of buying a gun last week as part of an investigation into the placement, selection, marketing, and security of firearms in Walmart’s stores, and to learn more about the retailer’s processes governing gun sales.

My journey to bring a gun home from Walmart turned out to be far more complicated than I expected.

It’s certainly a fair topic for Peterson to pursue. Politicians have begun making Walmart the face of gun shops in their bid to demonize firearms sellers, although Walmart only accounts for 2% of all such sales. (They do sell about 20% of all ammunition in the US, however.) Walmart has been the intended target of a couple potential mass shooters, but no one has ever linked failures by Walmart to mass shootings. Demonizing Walmart over firearms crime is an exercise in political demagoguery by the same people who demonize them over economic issues.

As right-thinking people know, however, the real reason to demonize them is for the shopping experience. I’m (mostly) kidding, but Peterson ran square into that problem from the start of her adventure. Not only did she not know which Walmarts sold firearms, no one at Walmart seemed interested in telling her. It took Peterson “hours” before she could confirm which store sold firearms, although later, a Walmart rep informed Peterson that she could have quickly located a store from the BATFE website.


So what happened when she finally got to a Walmart that sold firearms? Peterson found out that their stores only carry the most popular models rather than a comprehensive selection, which is pretty much true of everything else Walmart stocks. They secure their weapons elaborately, like much of their other high-end merchandise. Unlike everything else in the store, however, Walmart had no problem refusing to sell Peterson a weapon until their licensed employees were on hand to conduct the transaction. She had to return two days later to attempt a purchase.

And when she did … that didn’t go so well either.

The seller told me that my background check would likely be completed within a few minutes after I finished the paperwork. Once the purchase was finalized, an employee would walk the gun out to my car with me.

But I had only just finished printing my name when she stopped me and asked whether the address on my license matched my home address. I had moved since I obtained my license, and the addresses didn’t match.

That was a problem, she said.

To pass the background check, I would need to bring in a government-issued document with my correct address, such as a bill from a state-owned utility or a car registration. (I have never bought a gun, so I wasn’t aware of this.)

She apologized, told me the rules were strict around background checks, and asked me to come back another time to finish the purchase.

At that point, Peterson threw in the towel. Either Walmart took its firearms sales too seriously to get exposed as irresponsible, or Peterson was too inexperienced on the subject to test the system. It’s also possible that both were true, although Peterson was professional enough to admit it and to conclude that Walmart actually acts responsibly:


Walmart refused to sell me a gun when an authorized seller wasn’t present and when the address on my license didn’t match my home address, even though those issues could mean a lost sale.

Kudos to Peterson for writing this, and to Business Insider for publishing it too … even though it seems likely that they hoped for a more explosive (sorry) outcome. These days, though, “Walmart Acts Responsibly As A Firearms Seller” might be an actual scoop, at least in comparison to the rest of the media.

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