A small sign taped to a gun case at big-box retailer Walmart in central Santa Fe says the store — and all Walmarts across New Mexico — will stop selling firearms later this month after a new state law took effect requiring background checks on sales of nearly all firearms.
While Walmart and other gun sellers already were required to conduct federal background checks on buyers for their own firearms sales, Senate Bill 8, which took effect Monday, requires checks on most private sales, even between close friends. The law allows exceptions for sales between family members — including great-grandchildren and first cousins — and for antique guns.
Under the law, gun sellers holding federal firearms licenses can offer to conduct background checks for sales between private individuals. The licensees can charge up to $35 per check.
But Walmart is choosing to dodge the option altogether.
Walmart spokeswoman Tiffany Wilson said in an email Wednesday that as a general merchandiser and grocer, the retail giant was “not currently designed to conduct background checks for private-party firearms transfers under New Mexico’s new law.”
That would require Walmart employees “to handle and potentially store handguns and modern sporting rifles, which are types of firearms that Walmart does not sell and associates are not trained to handle or render safe,” Wilson said.
The store caters to hunters and sporting clay enthusiasts, she said, and does not sell modern sporting rifles such as the AR-15.
On Tuesday, Wilson told KOAT-TV in Albuquerque that a policy of offering to conduct checks for private sales might also be jolting for customers.
“Unlike a specialty sporting goods retailer, where customers expect to see firearms of various types being handled,” she said, “Walmart customers do not generally expect to see individuals walking through the store potentially carrying multiple firearms, which can lead to confusion and potentially putting both our customers and associates at risk.”
SB 8, which was supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and co-sponsored by state Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, was described by its proponents as benefiting public safety. Detractors argued, however, that the very people the law targets the most — irresponsible gun owners and criminals — are the least likely to comply.
Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email Wednesday, “If a company doesn’t feel it can create or maintain an environment where quick, noninvasive background checks can be completed in a safe manner, this would seem to be the right move for them.
“New Mexicans have the expectation that those who sell firearms should be willing and able to conduct these small, common-sense checks,” Stelnicki added.
Walmart stores throughout the state, including the two in Santa Fe, will cease gun sales July 22. The stores will still sell ammunition.
“I am sympathetic to them,” said Bill Roney, owner of the Outdoorsman of Santa Fe, a gun shop in the DeVargas Center.
Roney said Walmart, a general department store that offers a much smaller selection of firearms than his shop, was probably not the best place to have private gun owners bringing their weapons for background checks.
“It creates a security nightmare for everyone,” Roney said. Potential liability, he added, as well as the amount of clerical work required for each background check, could create “a money-losing proposition” for Walmart.
Roney said having one less competitor in the area would likely only bring a “minor” uptick in his sales.
He argued that more competition helps promote gun sales overall in a community. His company has been in business for 46 years and has been located at the DeVargas Center for the past 17 years.
“To a larger degree, it’s symptomatic of a regrettable thing going on in our community … that the sale of our products is inherently dangerous,” Roney said, describing SB 8 as an “imposition on legal gun owners.”
“To my knowledge, not a single individual” had come into the Outdoorsman since Monday requesting a background check on a private-party firearm transfer, he said.