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Wal-Mart To Stop Selling Some Semi-Automatic Rifles, Including The AR-15

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Walmart says it is no longer going to sell military-style rifles. That includes the AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle that is one of the most popular in the U.S. and one of the most controversial. It was used in mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and in Aurora, Colo. But Walmart says its decision is not driven by politics. Here's NPR's Eyder Peralta.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Walmart says of the removal of military-style weapons from its shelves is all about supply and demand. Sales of the guns have fallen. Getting rid of them, says Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg, makes more space this fall for the kinds of low caliber rifles used by hunters.

KORY LUNDBERG: It's pretty straightforward. It's about, you know, what the customers are telling us they're looking for and making sure we're carrying the products that they're - that they want.

PERALTA: Back in 2012, Walmart pulled AR-15s from its website after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Other big retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods pulled them from their stores. The demand for the AR-15 and other so-called black rifles increased.

BRIAN RUTTENBUR: There was a massive gun-buying surge that happened in 2012 and 2013. And everybody bought up all the black rifles that existed.

PERALTA: That's Brian Ruttenbur, who analyzes the firearms market for BB&T. He says that surge in purchases of military-style weapons has since evened out. So it doesn't surprise him that Walmart is stepping out of the market.

RUTTENBUR: If Walmart were making a ton of money and selling a lot of these type of weapons, I think it would be a much harder decision for them to make.

PERALTA: But Robert Spitzer, the author of "Guns Across America," says the move is a political statement whether Walmart wants it to be or not.

ROBERT SPITZER: It's a statement of a sort being made by Walmart that, look, if you're interested in a hunting or sporting weapon, you have lots to choose from. You don't have to go to a weapon that has been identified with excesses in gun violence in America of late.

PERALTA: Walmart is the country's biggest retailer, he says, and its decision might encourage smaller stores to follow suit. Eyder Peralta, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.