Protesters ask Walmart to stop selling assault weapons

6:07 PM, Jan 15, 2013   |    comments
John Ruggieri, manager of Walmart's Danbury store, carries back to his store a box given to him by protesters with more than 291,000 signatures opposing Walmart sales of assault weapons.(Photo: Gary Stoller, USA TODAY)
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DANBURY, Conn. -- Gun-control advocates and mothers whose children were shot in mass shootings delivered to the Walmart store here Tuesday a petition with more than 291,000 signatures demanding an end to the company's national sales of assault weapons and munitions.

Anthony Mercurio of SumOfUs.org, a corporate watchdog that organized the demonstration, handed a box with the signatures to store manager John Ruggieri outside the store's front doors.

The signatures were gathered by SomeOfUs.org and activist groups Change.org, MomsRising and Courage Campaign.

Mercurio was accompanied by about 80 protesters who walked through the store's spacious parking lot and met Ruggieri on a cold winter day.

They included Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded at a mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007; Roxanna Green, whose 9-year-old daughter Christina-Taylor was killed in a 2011 Tucson shooting spree that also wounded then Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; and Pam Simon, who also was wounded in that shooting.

Ruggieri shook hands with Mercurio and Haas and said he would pass the signatures on to his company, the country's largest gun retailer. He said his Walmart store supports the local community and -- unlike many Walmart stores -- doesn't sell guns.

Mercurio said organizers were aware the store doesn't sell guns. He said they chose the Danbury store for delivery of their petition because it is "symbolic" -- the nearest Walmart store to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed Dec. 14 by gunman Adam Lanza.

In the Walmart parking lot, three Sandy Hook residents, Darren Wagner and his sons Austen, 14, and Trystan, 15, held a banner that said: "Walmart: 291,141 Concerned Citizens Say Stop Selling Assault Weapons."

Wagner, a retired deputy sheriff who is a photographer, said Walmart does "positive things" for the community, but the company is "part of the problem" of gun violence in America.

"Walmart is a family-friendly store, and it shouldn't be selling any firearms or munitions," Wagner said.

Mark Aldrich, a Newtown resident who works as a prison librarian, said Walmart should "stop selling all weapons." Aldrich said his daughter and son graduated from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Haas, whose daughter Emily survived the Virginia Tech shooting and graduated from the university, said Walmart should not be selling "people-killer" assault-style weapons.

"We don't need military-grade people-killers on our streets," Haas said. "Those weapons were manufactured only to kill people."

Haas said "the pain from gun violence is unacceptable," and "the amount of pain I've witnessed is too much to bear."

Walmart's corporate spokeswoman, Kory Lundberg, said in a written statement to USA TODAY that Walmart "has been very purposeful about striking the right balance between serving our customers" who are hunters and sportsmen "and ensuring that we sell firearms in the most responsible manner."

She said Walmart doesn't sell handguns in the continental USA and doesn't sell high-capacity magazines separately from a gun.

Walmart doesn't sell firearms online and limits sales of modern sporting rifles "to less than one-third of our stores, primarily where there are large concentrations of hunters and sportsmen," Lundberg said.

In 2008, Walmart became a charter member of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's coalition against illegal guns and adopted a 10-point firearms sales code "that goes beyond what the law requires," Lundberg said. Among other things, the code requires videotaping of all firearms transactions, no sales without background check results, and securing firearms behind a locking fixture and with trigger locks.

In recent weeks, Walmart has discussed gun sales with the Obama administration, Congress, Bloomberg's office and sportsmen's groups, Lundberg said.

"We recognize there are a lot of views on this topic and many ideas being considered," she said. "While the debate continues, we remain committed to listening and sharing our experience to help the administration and Congress reach consensus on the right path forward for our country."

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