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Wal-Mart Offers Stiff Gun Sales Policy
Thu Jul 4, 4:45 AM ET

By BRIAN SKOLOFF, Associated Press Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Wal-Mart, the nation's largest gun seller, has implemented a rule requiring customers to be approved in a background check before they can buy rifles and shotguns, in a policy that exceeds federal guidelines and represents a victory for gun-safety advocates.

After the retail giant's own research showed that weapons it sold were being used in crimes, the company began requiring background clearance for all gun buyers, no matter how long it takes.

The new policy applies to rifles and shotguns sold at Wal-Mart; the retail chain does not sell handguns.

Under current federal law, background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System are required for anyone attempting to purchase a gun. If the results are not returned within three business days, the dealer may complete the sale.

"When we looked into this, we found that the statistics show that a high proportion of the applications not approved within three business days would have been denied," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jessica Moser Eldred said. "We wanted to make sure we were doing our part to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not be getting them."

Most background checks are completed within minutes, and 95 percent are done in two hours or less. Gun-safety advocates said the remaining five percent should not be given guns until a background check has been completed.

Nine states have standards that exceed federal guidelines for purchasing firearms, though Arkansas, where Wal-Mart is based, is not among them.

Details of the Wal-Mart policy are set forth in an internal memo from the Bentonville-based retailer obtained by The Associated Press. Eldred confirmed that the memo had been sent out last month to all 2,600 American stores and that the new policy is now in effect.

"Selling one gun to somebody who should not be buying it was one too many for us," she said.

In April, the Americans for Gun Safety Foundation sent a letter to Wal-Mart and other firearms sellers including Big 5, Gart Sports, Sports Authority and Kmart asking them to adopt the so-called "don't know, don't sell" policy.

Recent research showed that, during an 18-month period, more than 10,000 criminals nationwide obtained guns through licensed dealers because their background checks could not be completed within three days, according to the foundation.

"People who have been convicted of felonies, people under restraining orders ... are all supposed to be stopped by these background checks, but they're not stopped," foundation president Matthew Bennett said.

Bennett applauded Wal-Mart's new policy and said other large retailers may follow suit. "It's absolutely a step in the right direction," he said. "Wal-Mart is by far the biggest retailer of guns."

Officials at the National Instant Criminal Background Check System support the policy as an extra layer of protection against criminals obtaining guns.

Gary Wick, the system's assistant operations manager, said the policy adopted by Wal-Mart and other gun dealers can help prevent potentially dangerous situations.

But National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said Wal-Mart's new policy "penalizes law abiding citizens."

Arulanandam said the NRA has not yet decided how it will respond.

"While we're presently not considering a boycott of Wal-Mart ... we're not going to say there is not going to be any action," he said.