Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Dear Walmart CEO: You have the power to curb gun violence

An open letter to Doug McMillon, the chief executive of Walmart, whose store faced a shooting tragedy over the weekend—and who remains the largest seller of guns

By Andrew Ross Sorkin
Published: Aug 6, 2019

Dear Walmart CEO: You have the power to curb gun violencePolice officers near the Walmart that was the scene of Saturday's shooting in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 4, 2019. Walmart, the country’s largest retailer and seller of guns, should use its vast economic leverage to force corporate America to confront shooting deaths, Andrew Ross Sorkin writes. (Celia Talbot Tobin/The New York Times)


The following is an open letter to Doug McMillon, the chief executive of Walmart.

Dear Mr. McMillon,

The massacre at your store in El Paso over the weekend was a tragedy.

So were the shooting deaths, days earlier, of two Walmart employees, at a Walmart store in Mississippi. So, too, was the mass shooting early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio — and the multitude of others in recent years.

It is clear that this country is suffering from an epidemic that law enforcement and politicians are unable or unwilling to manage.

In the depths of this crisis lies an opportunity: for you to help end this violence.

You, singularly, have a greater chance to use your role as the chief executive of the country’s largest retailer and largest seller of guns — with greater sway over the entire ecosystem that controls gun sales in the United States than any other individual in corporate America.

What happened over the weekend was not your fault — but it is your moral responsibility to see that it stops.

The legally purchased weapons that were used in the mass shootings did not come from Walmart. But guns in America travel through a manufacturing and supply chain that relies on banks like Wells Fargo, software companies like Microsoft, and delivery and logistics giants like Federal Express and UPS. All of those companies, in turn, count Walmart as a crucial client.

Economists have a term for the kind of influence you wield: economic leverage.

Walmart has used this leverage for years over its suppliers, partners, distributors, rivals — even cities and states.

Now you have the chance to use that clout to help fix a system that is clearly broken, to solve a crisis whose costs are measured in lives, not just in profits and losses.

Other chief executives are already stepping up. For example, Marc Benioff of Salesforce recently pushed his company to stop working with retailers that sell automatic and certain semi-automatic firearms, high-capacity magazines for ammunition and a wide variety of accessories.

Ed Stack, chief executive of Dick’s Sporting Goods, was an early mover in removing guns from his stores. He brought important attention to the issue. But unlike you, with your huge scale, he did not have enough leverage to create real, systemic change.

You have already stopped selling handguns and assault-style weapons and raised the age limit to 21 to buy a gun from your stores (though you still sell rifles and certain other types of guns). I commend you for that.

Some critics have suggested that Walmart stop selling guns entirely, but you can use your influence over gun makers for good.

You could threaten gun makers that you will stop selling any of their weapons unless they begin incorporating fingerprint technology to unlock guns, for example. You could develop enhanced background checks and sales processes and pressure gun makers to sell only to retailers that follow those measures.

You have leverage over the financial institutions that offer banking and financing services to gun makers and gun retailers as well as those that lend money to gun buyers. You could use your heft to influence banks and credit card systems to change their processes around tracking gun sales. They have none.

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, wrote an email to his employees Monday calling on them to “recommit ourselves to work for a more equitable, just and safe society.” Call Dimon. Tell him you need his help to use the financial system’s plumbing to create a world-class method of tracking gun sales with built-in safeguards. He has resisted — but you are one of his clients.

Then call Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, who says he is heartsick about the violence. “It’s time for good people with different views to stop finger pointing and come together to address this violence for the good of our country,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Cook should listen to you — after all, Walmart sells vast quantities of his company’s products. Apple already bans the use of Apple Pay to buy guns and ammunition online, but it hasn’t extended that policy to in-store purchases. Shouldn’t it? And now Apple is preparing to launch a credit card with Goldman Sachs and Mastercard. They could establish a policy from the get-go not to conduct transactions with retailers that sell guns or only those that follow a best-practices protocol.

And what about calling C. Allen Parker, Wells Fargo’s interim chief executive? Wells Fargo is the bank to the National Rifle Association, the leading force against reasonable gun laws.

Now that there have been killings at your stores, you have a business interest in telling Wells Fargo that as long as the bank works with the NRA, you won’t work with it. Wells Fargo boasts on its website about a Walmart-sponsored arrangement to provide financing to your suppliers. Maybe it’s time to reconsider that partnership. Or you could go further and consider no longer accepting Wells Fargo-issued credit and debit cards in your stores. Give Parker the stark choice between working with the NRA and doing business with the country’s largest retailer.

Over the past decade, Walmart has spent tens of millions on lobbying efforts in Washington, much of it to push for lower corporate taxes, which have juiced your profits. You’ve also lobbied to combat the opioid epidemic and to support veterans.

It would be easy for you, and other chief executives, to argue that controlling the gun violence epidemic is Washington’s responsibility, not yours. But in an era of epic political dysfunction, corporate executives have a chance to fill that leadership vacuum.

The 22 people who died in your store this past weekend deserve more than words of consolation to their families. They deserve a leader who is going to work to make sure it never happens again.

©2019 New York Times News Service