Freedomnomics

Article published Wednesday, September 1, 2015, at Investor's Business Daily.

Wal-Mart Decision To Drop AR-15 Leaves Poor Vulnerable

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Gun sales are at record highs, but Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest seller of guns and ammunition, announced last week that it has stopped selling so-called "assault rifles" or "other modern sporting rifles."

"It's about what customers are buying and what they're not," Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg announced, suggesting the move wasn't due to political considerations.

Headlines fixated on Wal-Mart's decision to stop selling AR-15s, a gun used in Newtown and other tragedies. These guns aren't selling quite like they did in 2013, but they're still the best-selling rifles in America. Many other rifles are only gaining in popularity.

Sales of U.S.-made rifles increased 119% between 2010 and 2013, the latest year for which data are available. Between 2001 and 2013, there was a 212% increase. More recent background-check data suggest gun sales have continued to soar since 2013.

Gun sales and manufacturing took off as soon as President Obama was elected in 2008 and are now at record levels. Against this backdrop, Wal-Mart may just be having bad luck in experiencing a drop in gun sales. But there have been other pressures.

Hoping For Good Will

In 2013, the Washington Post announced that the White House was trying to work with Wal-Mart to help push gun-control strategies. This year, New York City's employee pension fund is considering divesting from Wal-Mart because it was selling "assault weapons." Trinity Wall Street Church tried to force a shareholder vote on limiting what types of guns the company could sell.

Perhaps the company that used to be labeled "the nation's first politically incorrect discount retailer" on issues from the minimum wage to the use of products made in foreign countries to the construction of superstores in urban areas feels that taking these guns off its shelves could buy some political good will.

Wal-Mart will apparently still be selling semi-automatic rifles for hunting, just not so-called "assault rifles" or "other modern sporting rifles." Ironically, the civilian version of the AR-15 uses essentially the same sorts of bullets as do small game-hunting rifles, fires one bullet at a time, and does no more damage.

No self-respecting military would use the civilian version of these guns. Many states even forbid using the AR-15 for deer hunting, as its small bullets are likely to wound rather than kill the animals.

The AR-15 is a hunting rifle that has been made to look like a military weapon.

Can't Afford Protection

Semiautomatic weapons such as the AR-15 don't just make hunting easier. They also help people protect themselves. Should someone miss his first shot or be faced with multiple assailants, having to manually reload the gun could cost him his life.

There's no evidence that banning these so-called "assault weapons" will reduce crime. Violent crime rates (including murder rates) fell after the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in September 2004. In 2003, when the ban was still in place, there were 5.7 murders per 100,000 people. By 2013, the murder rate had fallen to 4.5 per 100,000.

One should also bear in mind that just 2.3% of all murders are committed with rifles. Not even studies funded by the Clinton administration found that the ban reduced any type of violent crime.

In the past, Wal-Mart has sometimes made the decision to stop selling guns in high-crime urban areas. Perhaps this made business sense in certain cases, but it also made it harder for vulnerable people to defend themselves.

If Wal-Mart is caving to political pressure to stop selling the country's most popular firearms, the higher costs to poor people acquiring guns means fewer of them will be able to afford protection. Our loss will go far beyond reduced Wal-Mart profits.

Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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