The key to gun control: Walmart?

The gun lobby needn't fear Joe Biden's meeting with the NRA, but it should be nervous about the nation's biggest retailer participating in the VP's gun-control roundtable

Guns for sale at a Walmart in 2000.
(Image credit: Newsmakers/Getty Images)

Vice President Joe Biden and other members of President Obama's gun-safety task force are meeting with the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups on Thursday, one of a series of discussions as the task force prepares its recommendations for Obama after last month's massacre of 20 first graders in Newtown, Conn. On Wednesday, for example, Biden met with gun control advocates and gun-violence victims groups — then freaked out gun control opponents by saying that Obama is considering unilateral action to reduce gun violence. That spasm of angst was probably unnecessary — as Dave Weigel at Slate points out, there's little the president can accomplish by executive order — and the NRA won't budge in its absolutist stance against any new restrictions on gun ownership. Another participant in Thursday's roundtable, though, should make the gun lobby nervous, says Bill Scher at The New Republic: Walmart, one of the nation's biggest firearms retailers.

If Walmart and other major gun sellers partner with the White House, the gun lobby would be divided between manufacturers and retailers, potentially neutralizing the airwaves and preventing the NRA — heavily backed by manufacturers — from positioning itself as the sole voice of gun-owning America. Would Walmart go for it? It's plausible. Unlike edgy gun shows that serve niche markets, Walmart needs to maintain an image with broad appeal, beyond those who dream of assembling a militia in their backyard.... Seeing the danger of an Obama/Walmart partnership, conservatives are pushing the "crony capitalist" charge in hopes of rendering such a liberal-corporate alliance ineffective. [New Republic]

Walmart originally declined Biden's invitation, citing scheduling conflicts, then changed course at the last minute, explaining that the company "underestimated the expectation to attend the meeting on Thursday in person." But gun-safety advocates shouldn't get their hopes up, say Anna Palmer and Reid J. Epstein at Politico. "Walmart sells a lot of guns, and has a lot of gun owners for customers, so the retail giant doesn't want to look too close to the White House's anti-gun push either, one source familiar with the company's stance said."

We've certainly been down this road after previous mass shootings — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora — with rumblings about stricter gun laws fizzling out in Congress, says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast. Obama himself hardly mentioned tightening gun laws during his first term, which included several mass shootings. But this time does feel different: A month after the Sandy Hook Elementary killings, the media hasn't dropped the topic, "despite predictions that the story would fade once reporters pulled out of Newtown." And Biden's passionate on-camera vow Wednesday that he and Obama "are determined to take action," unilateral or otherwise, shows that the White House will "follow through and take on one of the capital's most entrenched lobbies." And Team Obama must have more than Walmart up its sleeve: Biden wouldn't "stage that kind of show and then bring forth a popgun."

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