UPDATE (March 1, 3:57 p.m. PST) — Two large retailers with strong footings in the Pacific Northwest have joined a growing roster of companies making changes to gun sale policies.
Kroger — the company that operates Fred Meyer stores in Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Idaho — and Eugene-based Bi-Mart announced Thursday that they will raise the minimum age for gun sales from 18 to 21.
The companies join Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, which both announced that they would stop selling guns to customers under 21. The retailers have imposed new restrictions on ammunition sales after the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school Feb. 14, which left 17 people dead and several others wounded.
“We believe these are common-sense steps we can take immediately that are in line with our values and our vision,” Kroger said in a statement. “Kroger’s vision is to serve America through food inspiration and uplift. In response to the tragic events in Parkland and elsewhere, we’ve taken a hard look at our policies and procedures for firearm sales.”
Kroger operates 50 Fred Meyer stores in Oregon. Seventeen of those locations sell firearms, including stores in Bend and Roseburg. None of the company’s Portland stores sell firearms.
Bi-Mart has carried firearms commonly used for hunting and shooting sports since the company’s inception more than 60 years ago, though it adds it has never sold military or assault-style weapons.
The move by both companies highlights a shift in the debate over guns in America, one in which retailers are moving the needle where lawmakers have not.
Vice president of advertising and marketing at Bi-Mart, Don Leber, said the company has discussed gun sale policy changes after every mass shooting in recent years.
“I think the groundswell off this most recent incident and I think what it’s done to the landscape for retailers — I think has awakened us to the fact that now is the time to make that move,” Leber said.
Leber said the age of the Parkland shooter “absolutely” played a role in Bi-Mart’s decision. The shooter, who was 19 years old, legally obtained the weapons used in the Parkland shooting.
“That’s one thing you can affect and change,” Leber said of age limits on gun sales. “This recent one that happened in Florida has really brought it to the forefront that the prudent thing to do would be to move that age limit up to 21 and older.”
Kroger said it stopped selling military-style semi-automatic rifles at its Fred Meyer stores several years ago, but that it will no longer accept special orders of such weapons in Alaska.
“We have a thorough and vigilant background check process for the sale of sporting-related firearms at our select general-merchandise Fred Meyer stores,” the company said in its statement. “In addition, firearms are sold only by designated associates that go through rigorous training and federal background checks. Recent events demonstrate the need for additional action on the part of responsible gun retailers.”
Kroger said it has also closed some of its gun departments in recent years because of less demand.
On Thursday, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that, along with new age restrictions, it will stop selling military-style semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines.
Walmart said it would remove items resembling assault-style rifles from its website.