Walmart, a massive corporation that has continued to dominate the world of brick and mortar retail for decades, was the unfortunate site of an American mass shootings. This 2019 El Paso shooting, paired with another that happened within the same week, once again sparked conversations about gun violence, legislation, and whether or not the NRA is run by literal Christian Satan. But under the Trump administration, the discussions from the White House have been distinct in response to these events. The administration being what it is, things like violent video games were mentioned in a prepared statement as root causes for these tragedies. Discussing the merits of that stance is pointless, but this time, Walmart took a bizarre action. Stores were instructed to remove advertisements for violent video games, and some stores appeared to even remove certain games from sale. This was a temporary action, but one that was under intense scrutiny for a reason.
Like I said, taking the violence in video games discussion to task is utterly pointless. It’s a bad faith argument meant to be a political distraction for politicians bought and sold by gun lobbyists to use as a shield against legitimate solutions. Certified video game industry pundits, people like Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller, engaged with Trump’s televised (and undoubtedly ghost written) comments against video games (this particular instance in a frustratingly milquetoast Newsweek op-ed) at face value and had about the same level of productivity as rubbing a dog’s nose in its own excrement. Instead of arguing about whether or not video games are responsible for violence for the millionth time, we should be doing everything we can to hold bodies, organizations, and corporations accountable for their contributions to this cultural ill.
Walmart, in its toothless attempts to respond to a mass shooting within its own walls, has utterly screwed the pooch. It has already stopped the sale of many types of weapons in the wake of other events, including halting the sale of rifles such as the ever-popular AR-15. Now, with the exception of Alaska, Walmart stores only sell traditional hunting rifles in its “sporting goods” sections. The company policy approaches the matter from the perspective of considering “sportsmen and hunters” valuable customers, and the general stance from most people is that things like handguns aren’t really for hunting. To its credit, Walmart even requires background checks, which is a step further than what the federal government does.
But what does Walmart do when there aren’t products left to remove from shelves and its own employees and patrons are subject to this brand of violence? Apparently, the answer is to toe the Republican party line. Rather than address gun violence as an issue with, perhaps, statements against gun manufacturers, industry lobbyists, and organizations or even decrying something as easy as white supremacy, Walmart looked to its video game section. As a temporary measure intended to “respect” the victims, Walmart stores removed promotional display materials for violent video games. This is temporary, of course, because even this half-assed move can’t be permanent at the expense of profits.
With this move, Walmart has effectively, on a national stage, delivered power to the “video games are violent” talking point. With such a massive seat of power, influence, and responsibility in the wake of the shooting, Walmart chose to give visibility to a smokescreen. The actual issue, the hard truths that are the real fuel powering American gun violence, will once again fade to the background while Walmart pretends it handled it for a PR bump and people who could potentially make a difference argue about a fake problem.
A chance to make a real difference landed on Walmart leadership’s collective lap, and now people like me are reacting to it because video games were tangentially, insubstantially involved. This timeline sucks.