New York Church Challenges Walmart Over Gun Sales

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I’ve often aimlessly walked through Walmart looking for something and found myself in an aisle surrounded by weapons. There was always something pretty eerie about the retailer selling firearms. Maybe it was the fact that you could run to the store and pick up doughnuts and guns in the same place, or maybe it was the fact that young children were trying out bicycles just two aisles down from my store’s gun depot. Either way, it was always unsettling.

New York's Trinity Church

New York’s Trinity Church. Courtesy of Mith Huang via Flickr

Now, it is these very guns that has Walmart heading to court in a battle with company shareholders. New York based Episcopal Trinity Church, which has about $300,000 worth of shares in Walmart as part of their diverse portfolio, is behind the lawsuit. While Trinity’s investment isn’t huge, its moral bargaining power is strong. Trinity’s main concern lies in Walmart selling high-capacity magazines like those used in mass killings. According to Forbes:

Trinity’s proposal would require Walmart’s board to oversee the sale of “products that especially endanger public safety and well-being, risk impairing the company’s reputation, or offend the family and community values integral to the company’s brand,” as the document first filed with the Security and Exchange Commission last year reads.

This lawsuit looks like an effort from the church to protect its investment in the company in light of recent mass shootings in places like Newtown, Connecticut, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Shootings like these have  many Americans supporting stricter background checks for those buying firearms. Customers who come into Walmart to buy guns often just have to undergo a quick background check using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and can walk out the same day with a firearm.

If one of Walmart’s guns was to be used in a mass shooting, the potential public blowback could negatively affect the company financially, and as result, Trinity Church. The church’s rector, Rev. Dr. James Cooper, told Forbes:

Somebody is making decisions about what they sell. Trinity doesn’t need to. We would just like them to tell us they have a system in place at the board level to protect the reputation of the company, its values, and protect the citizens who live in that community from extreme harm.

Rev. Cooper and Trinity’s legal counsel Evan Davis were shocked to learn that the company chooses not to sell CDs and games with Parental Advisory warning labels, but will instead sell assault rifles with the capacity for 30 rounds of ammunition. Davis told Forbes:

If it were a video with somebody shooting up a school, or a rap song with somebody talking about shooting up a school, they wouldn’t sell it. So why sell the gun? It doesn’t make sense.

This lawsuit is part of a long battle between the church and Walmart execs for board room oversight. In December 2013, Trinity submitted its shareholder proposal for inclusion in the company’s 2014 proxy materials, but the SEC sided with Walmart, issuing a no-action letter permitting the retailer to exclude the church’s submission from its 2014 annual filings. That’s when Trinity took its case to Delaware’s federal courts.

In November, after months of back-and-forth, U.S. District Judge Leonard Stark decided in Trinity’s favor, ordering Walmart to let its shareholders vote on the church’s proposal. In January, Walmart appealed.

The result of this case could end up affecting how other companies and their shareholders do business, but will more board room oversight be welcomed? In most cases probably not, if Walmart’s resistance is any indication. Regardless, the church still isn’t willing to back down from this gun fight.

Alexis Evans
Alexis Evans is an Assistant Editor at Law Street and a Buckeye State native. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a minor in Business from Ohio University. Contact Alexis at



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