As Walmart scrambles to respond to the El Paso mass shooting, the retailer announced that it would remove video game displays and other signs or videos that show violence.
The move came as Republican leaders, including President Donald Trump and Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, have drawn a link between deadly shootings and video games, despite researchers’ conclusions that there is no strong connection.
Walmart has also faced pressure from Democratic politicians and supporters of gun control to end or limit its sale of guns. But there has been no change to the retailer’s gun sales policy, said Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart.
One Walmart manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation from the retailer, said in an interview, “It’s kind of funny that we can still sell firearms, but we can’t show pictures of a cartoon character holding a gun.”
The manager, who said that he had received the memo Wednesday and that advertisements for some of the store’s most popular games had been taken down, added, “I believe it’s a bad business strategy.”
Hargrove confirmed that the memo about violent signs, which was shared on social media last week, was a companywide directive. “We’ve taken this action out of respect for the incidents of the past week, and it does not reflect a long-term change in our video game assortment,” he said. “We are focused on assisting our associates and their families, as well as supporting the community, as we continue a thoughtful and thorough review of our policies.”
The memo told employees to “review your store for any signing or displays that contain violent images or aggressive behavior.”
It also said employees should make sure that “no movies depicting violence are playing in the Electronics section” and that “any hunting season videos that may be playing in Sporting Goods” should be turned off.
“Turn off or unplug any video game display consoles that show a demo of violent games,” it added. “Cancel any events promoting combat style or third-person shooter games that may be scheduled in Electronics.”
Also this week, ESPN and ABC decided to postpone coverage of an invitational for players of “Apex Legends,” a battle royale-style video game, at the X-Games in Minneapolis out of respect for the victims of recent shootings.
In a speech Monday, Trump said, “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” adding, “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”
He joined a long list of politicians who have blamed video games for mass shootings. But there has been extensive research into whether a causal link between video games and violent behavior exists, and it has yielded a broad agreement (though not a total consensus) that there is no strong evidence of a link.
“This idea that video games or movies or mental illness cause gun violence — there is no data that backs that up,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. “Clearly the issue is easy access to guns, and we know that because that’s what the data and the research tells us.”
Walmart is the largest retailer in the United States, as well as the largest private employer. The company does not provide breakout data on the profits or revenues that come directly from weapons or video games, Hargrove said.
Walmart does not sell military-style weapons similar to the AK-47 style rifle used by the gunman in El Paso or the AR-15s used in other mass shootings. It offers hunting rifles and shotguns at about half of its 4,000 supercenters and handguns only in Alaska.
Two weeks after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, the company announced that it would not sell guns to anyone under 21.