LOS ANGELES - Walmart Inc. has removed all guns and ammunition from the shelves of its U.S. stores this week as a safety precaution in response to recent civil unrest, a company spokesperson confirmed.
In a letter to store managers Tuesday, Walmart asked staff to pull guns from shelves "due to the current unrest in isolated areas of the country and out of an abundance of caution," the Wall Street Journal reported.
In June, the company did something similar, shifting firearms and ammunition off of sales floors in some of its U.S. stores amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May.
The retail giant aims to prevent potential theft of firearms if stores are broken into, according to a statement from the company.
"It’s important to note that we only sell firearms in approximately half of our stores, primarily where there are large concentrations of hunters, sportsmen and sportswomen," a Walmart spokesperson told FOX TV Stations. "We have seen some isolated civil unrest and as we have done on several occasions over the last few years, we have moved our firearms and ammunition off the sales floor as a precaution for the safety of our associates and customers."
The retailer said customers can still purchase guns and ammo upon request, even though they are no longer on the sales floor on display.
It’s unclear how long the items will remain off store shelves.
In 2019, Walmart said it would stop selling short-barrel and handgun ammunition after it ran out of its current inventory. The company also discontinued handgun sales in Alaska, marking its complete exit from handguns and allowing it to focus on hunting rifles and related ammunition only.
Walmart further requested that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms at its stores unless they are law enforcement officers. In 2019, a gunman entered a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas and killed 22 people using an AK-style firearm that Walmart already bans the sale of.
Walmart moved to reduce its market share of ammunition from around 20% to a range of about 6% to 9%.
Walmart made its latest decision after the recent unrest in Philadelphia, the company told FOX TV Stations.
The news comes as violent protests and looting have surged in Philadelphia. More than 200 people were arrested and 57 officers were injured after a deadly police-involved shooting sparked unrest across the city, according to FOX 29 Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, a new report by researchers at the UC Davis School of Medicine said gun sales have surged during the coronavirus pandemic, and data shows that gun sales continue to rise in the leadup to the 2020 presidential election.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a trade association for the firearms industry, nearly 5 million Americans purchased a firearm for the very first time in 2020. NSSF surveyed firearm retailers, which reported that 40 percent of sales were conducted to purchasers who have never previously owned a firearm.
According to the NSSF survey, 58 percent of firearm purchases were among African American men and women, the largest increase of any demographic group. Women comprised 40 percent of first-time gun purchasers.
"Retailers noted that they are seeing a 95 percent increase in firearm sales and a 139 percent increase in ammunition sales over the same period in 2019," NSSF stated.
In addition, prominent gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Company’s revenue rose 53% to $145.7 million in the quarter that ended Sept. 26 compared to a year ago.