In the wake of the Florida shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead and 14 wounded, Walmart released a statement on Wednesday, Feb. 28 announcing that the age restriction on purchasing firearms has been raised from 18 to 21 in all stores. In that same statement, Walmart has also announced that items “resembling assault-style rifles, including nonlethal airsoft guns and toys” will be removed from their website. It is also important to note that Walmart mentioned that “modern sporting rifles, including the AR-15” have not been sold by their franchise since 2015 and that this policy change was inspired by the franchise’s desire to “be a responsible seller of firearms and go beyond Federal law.”
While these new policies do show that some companies are listening and actively responding to the outrage that many of their customers feel towards firearm possession and violence, these good intentions are, quite frankly, misplaced. It is important to note that while the Florida shooter did legally acquire his weapon at the age of 19, Walmart’s change of policies would not have made a difference. For one, the firearm used was an AR-15, which, as previously stated, is no longer sold by Walmart branches. Furthermore, it was purchased from a gun shop, which, despite Walmart’s change in policy, still offer firearms to those at the age of 18.
In fact, I fail to see what difference, if any, that this policy makes. It definitely won’t stop any further tragedies; James Holmes, the Aurora Theater shooter, was 24 years old when he legally acquired the firearms used in the shooting. It’s worth adding that, in more than a third of mass shootings that took place between 2009 and 2016, the shooter was prohibited from possessing firearms. So it’s safe to say that these shootings are not exclusively a result of young people legally getting their hands on guns too soon.
Furthermore, the firearms currently available for purchase at Walmart don’t fit the profile of those used in mass shootings. Other than handguns, which are only available for purchase in Alaska branches, Walmart simply doesn’t offer any egregiously dangerous firearms that would be capable of carrying out the mass shootings that concern the public, since Walmart’s inventory of guns consists of mostly bolt-action hunting rifles. What makes these weapons such a minimal threat is the fact that bolt-action rifles can only fire one shot at a time before reloading, as opposed to firearms like the AR-15 which can fire multiple rounds without stopping.
If Walmart was truly concerned about the firearms that they offer and the ease of accessibility to these guns, the only option that would effectively solve this problem would be to stop the sale of guns at their stores altogether. Raising the minimum age of purchase by three years won’t do much other than direct a potential shooter to a gun shop, or, in a hypothetical situation where Walmart was the only seller of firearms in the area, simply delay a potential shooter’s violent tendencies by three years. And while the argument can be made that those three years are a potential time frame for an individual’s behavior and violent tendencies to be recognized, the aforementioned Florida shooting demonstrates that even when these tendencies are recognized beforehand, authorities do not always react in time.
Rather than pushing policies that raise the legal purchasing age or limiting access to firearms, the focus should be shifted toward mental health and offering the necessary resources to anyone who may hurt others. In 2017, a study held by Mental Health America showed that 56 percent of adults with mental health issues in the United States were left untreated. And while most of these individuals will likely never go on to become a shooter, if more is done to help the potential shooters among them get proper medical treatment, rather than focusing on keeping guns out of their hands, then there is a chance to change this trend of annual mass shootings.
For the most part, policies involving and directly affecting gun control stem from the fear and concern for the safety of the general population. And to an extent this fear is warranted; we all have a sibling, relative or close friend who attends high school or university, and we are concerned for their safety. However, when it comes to long term solutions, we must think wisely rather than quickly, and support policies that address the root of the problem, instead of the side effects.