Walmart said Wednesday it's removing semi-automatic rifles and similar sports firearms from its stores because not enough people are buying them — not because of attention to shootings like Wednesday's killings of two Virginia journalists on live TV.
Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for the company, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, told NBC News that the decision had been in the works for months and that suppliers were notified early this year that Walmart would be moving away from so-called modern sports rifles.
That's a marketing label created in 2009 by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to describe semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 — the weapon used in the 2012 killings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Customers are simply no longer "excited" about the products, Lundberg said, so Walmart is refocusing its firearms sales on "people who shoot clays and stuff." The timing was driven by Walmart's transition from summer merchandise to fall merchandise, he said, not by the debate over guns.
"This product, being what it is, obviously gets a lot more attention, but the process Walmart is doing here is exactly the same as it would be if it were something on the grocery aisle," Lundberg told NBC News.
About a third of its U.S. stores continue to carry the firearms. The rest won't be affected, along with Walmart.com and Sam's Club membership stores, which Lundberg said have never sold modern sports rifles.
The company's move also apparently has nothing to do with an August 2014 incident, when police officers fatally shot 22-year-old John Crawford III in an Ohio Walmart while he was carrying a pellet gun that he had picked up in the sporting goods section of the store.