There are many things that are shocking about back-to-school shopping, like the amount of glue sticks elementary school teachers think your kid needs or the price of tiny sneakers, but it's rare to think that guns would ever be in play. But because this is America, on Wednesday afternoon a Twitter user posted a picture of just that: A Walmart back-to school display of firearms.
The picture was tweeted by a customer and depicted a display of firearms with a reading, "Own The School Year Like A Hero" right on top of it, implying that guns are as essential academic success as freshly sharpened pencils. Walmart apologized for the sign advertising guns as back-to-school items on Twitter and in a statement to Romper, but the whole ordeal has many people, including Walmart executives, scratching their heads.
Walmart's Senior Manager of Corporate Communications, Charles Crowson, told Romper in a statement:
What’s seen in this photograph would never be acceptable in our stores. We regret this situation and are looking into how it could have happened.
Crowson also told Romper that Walmart has not actually located the store in question just yet, which was originally thought to be in Evansville, Indiana, due to Walmart's response to the initial tweet. "There was a miscommunication between the corporate and social media teams [on Wednesday afternoon] that has now been resolved. I can confirm that we are actively trying to find the store where this happened," Crowson told Romper.
Needless to say, people were shocked and outraged:
Walmart's apology and effort to resolve the situation is well-taken, but it doesn't totally address the underlying issue behind the interest in the viral photo. The fact is, most Americans believe that access to guns should be more regulated and should not be joked about, according to the Pew Research Center. While others, given the Walmart display, might feel that guns are a laughing matter or that bringing a gun to school makes one a "hero."
Part of Walmart's enthusiastic response to the viral tweet on Wednesday, and likely the reason the image went viral in the first place, is that it's not so hard to imagine a world in which some people think more guns in schools are the answer to increasing gun violence and mass shootings in the U.S. Betsy DeVos, secretary of the Department of Education, said as much when questioned about her stance on guns in schools earlier this year during her confirmation hearings.
Gun control advocates have long targeted Walmart for selling firearms in certain stores and perpetuating "easy access" to firearms. For what it's worth, Walmart only sells guns in-store (not online) in certain markets and in accordance with each state's regulations. It does not sell handguns or high-capacity magazines. The company also videotapes all sales of firearms.
According to CNN, the company maintains that its sporting goods departments are vital to its business, which means that even if the company has removed certain types of assault rifles from its inventory, which it did in 2015, some types of guns will likely be a mainstay at the superstore in many markets.
But video tapes and business interests don't mean anything to the victims of the 196 school shootings since 2013, 64 of them in 2015 alone. Or any of the other mass shootings Americans have endured, like at the Pulse nightclub in Florida in 2016 or the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting in 2012. Despite anyone's stance on gun control, one thing is pretty clear: America has a problem when it comes to guns, even if all of them aren't bought at Walmart.
It is likely that the signage in the picture from Wednesday taken at a Walmart was a prank or a simple mistake made by an underpaid employee. But school shootings are nothing to laugh about and, despite the kinds of guns it sells and its protocol regarding transactions, Walmart could do a lot of good by taking a stance in the discussion surrounding gun control reform, instead of just cleaning up the aftermath of bad social media mentions.
Parents have enough problems while back-to-school shopping with their kids in tow. Being reminded that one of their kids might not come home one day on the bus shouldn't be one of them.