Drop the Guns — George Zornick in The Nation on why Walmart decided to end the sale of assault weapons.
For many years, you could walk into America’s most ubiquitous retail store and walk out with a military-style assault rifle. That will soon be impossible. Walmart announced this week that it will discontinue sales of “modern” sporting rifles, which are often fashioned to look like military weapons. It will also cease sales of any other gun that can carry high-capacity ammunition rounds.
The store claims the shift is a response to sales; a spokesman told Newsweek simply that “customers weren’t buying them.”
But there are serious reasons to question that justification, and instead to see a notable moment in evolving American views and standards on gun control.
Nationwide, gun sales are going up, not down, according to FBI data on background check requests. That’s the most reliable barometer of gun sales nationwide. While it doesn’t capture online sales or others where background checks are not required, Walmart does run them.
Analyses of the gun industry consistently show that assault rifles are a popular choice for consumers. The National Sports Shooting Foundation said in congressional testimony last year that there were 5 to 8.2 million assault rifles in the United States. Gun shop owners explained that if assault-rifle sales tail off at all, it’s because customers most likely owned one at some point. “The market is saturated. The market is flooded with them,” one gun merchant toldUSA Today late last year.
Walmart doesn’t report detailed sales numbers, and it’s possible there’s something idiosyncratic about Walmart gun customers that makes assault rifles unattractive. That would make them unlike gun customers nationwide—and Walmart is the country’s largest gun retailer, as we reported in detail in late 2012.
We also know gun sales are a big moneymaker for the retailer. A Walmart executive vice president told shareholders in 2012 that gun sales were a staple of improving sales numbers, and that gun sales increased 76 percent over the 26 previous months.
That’s all to say: Walmart’s explanation for stopping assault-weapons sales is not terribly convincing. More likely, the store is responding to increased concerns about gun control, and realizing that selling military-looking weapons three aisles over from diapers is untenable in a country where mass shootings continue to increase, and where more than half of shooters use assault weapons or high-capacity weapons. When I was working on the 2012 story, I contacted Walmart to request comment on the fact that they were selling the same gun Adam Lanza had just used during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The gun quickly disappeared from Walmart’s site, only to reappear later.
But Walmart executives had to be worried about another similar scenario—maybe even where the shooter buys their gun from Walmart directly.
People are often (and rightfully) frustrated with the lack of progress on gun control at the national level, but smaller victories at the state and municipal level are often overlooked. Several states from Washington to Connecticut instituted tougher gun laws since Newtown, and it’s become an increasingly potent message for big-city mayors.
This is the new reality Walmart is probably responding to—especially since the store’s new growth plan involves pushing into urban centers where, until now, there haven’t been many Walmart stores. (That may also explain Walmart’s quick decision to do away with Confederate flag products after the massacre in Charleston.)
Mayors often used Walmart’s gun sales as a reason not to approve a location, even if the company pledged not to sell weapons at that particular prospective store. New York City is even considering divesting from Walmart because of its weapons sales.
So while Walmart still remains the country’s largest gun retailer, their self-imposed assault-weapons ban can fairly be seen as a small victory for gun control advocates: It’s a new world Walmart finds itself selling in.
You Wanna Talk Katrina? — Cheryl Wagner in TPM on what it cost to stay after the flood.
…My returning neighbors and I slowly but surely stabilized the deserted blocks. Those of us who lived on-site in trailers or in the upstairs of flooded and gutted houses served as watchmen against house strippers and copper thieves. We sat with the elderly who returned to their ruined homes and listened to their stories. We planted gardens. We shared tools and helped each other carry heavy things. We intervened when children returned without adequate adult supervision bounced on moldy curbside mattresses and became the targets of drifter grifters’ stolen goods schemes. We conferred about insurance and Road Home problems and spent years of our lives untangling snafus. We picked through rubble and high weeds and weird and awful garbage and peeked in abandoned windows to help catalog the blight. We met with city officials when neighbors had family members gunned down in front of their houses by patrons of seedy, makeshift bars. Reading it now, the list is as incomplete as it is long and absurd and exhausting.
Despite these efforts, the vantage of 10 years has made it easier to see rebuilding’s true and total cost to me and others. Not only did years of our lives get sacrificed to a bureaucratic and literal quagmire, but also there’s an awful lot that, as the joke goes, can never be unseen. So in my head movie of the rerun of my life, sometimes I cue the reel where I pull a Homer Simpson. His platform when he ran for Sanitation Commissioner becomes mine. “Can’t someone else do it?”
Some of my mixed feelings stem from the mixed results of the rebuild. A good bit of what some neighbors and I had hoped for in the endless series of civic planning meetings never materialized. Simple things like safe neighborhoods and affordable housing and easier paths for former New Orleanians to return to their former homes for many never became a reality. New Orleans and Louisiana is now full of people who, for various reasons, don’t like to talk much about the flood. And now I’m one of them.
Facebook has become a minefield of Louisianans barking at each other to either stop talking about the flood in the way they are talking about it or to just stop talking about the flood, period. Angry diatribes about the production of commemorative Katrina snow globes battle old photos of friends in white hazmat suits cleaning out their flooded houses. Memes circulate of a vintage comic book Batman bat-slapping Robin under the words “Ten years after Katrina? SHUT THE HELL UP.”
Some of this is Katrina fatigue from the are-you-still-chewing-that-old-bone? crowd that did not flood, but it’s also that people who suffered greatly don’t want their wound constantly poked at with a media stick. What don’t they want to be reminded of? You name it. Loss of family or friends that died in the flood. Loss of family and friends from stress or rebuilding accidents or suicide in the flood’s prolonged aftermath that no one ever counted among the official dead. The financial shitstorm the flood opened up in their lives that they are still trying to ride out. All the K-splainers who have moved to town. The cheesy disaster art and music. Their vanished photos and clothes and books and records they know was “just stuff” but used to give them tangible proof of who they were and where they had been anyway. How they don’t trust the government or insurance companies quite the same anymore. Why they can’t afford to rent or live in their old neighborhoods. How places like New Orleans East and Chalmette and the Lower Ninth Ward and elsewhere still look pretty bruised. That some contractors came to town to try to rip them off and succeeded. How that wall looks crooked and that tile seems a little warpy and guess what? It is—because they had to repair it themselves.
What I don’t particularly care to talk about or remember is both little and big. Escape holes cut in roofs. Mattresses and clothes scattered on the sides of elevated highways. Mold and fetid refrigerators and creepy clouds of plaster dust that billowed up the street. All the women sitting on their front steps with their heads in their hands. My basset hounds swallowing roof slate and wire from having to live with me in the disaster zone. And I don’t want to be reminded that my friend was murdered in the aftermath and no one ever got caught or punished for it and she and her memory evaporated, like much of what happened, into time and smoke.
But sometimes being willing to talk moves the conversation forward. And what I do want to talk about is this: everything my Mom was worried would take its toll and was unable to communicate to me when I was caught up in the fight-or-flight of the moment. We don’t choose our disasters, but when disasters happen, should we lean in and ride them out to their wild conclusions—or just get the hell out of the way?
Vin Scully Goes For 67 — The long-time Dodgers broadcaster will return for one more season next year.
On the surface, the most impressive thing about Scully is his longevity. When the 21-year-old redhead from The Bronx broadcast his first Dodgers game in 1950, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Bob Feller were active. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle had not yet started their careers. Cy Young, a 19th century star whose name is synonymous with pitching greatness, was still alive. The Dodgers’ own Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier just three years earlier—and the majority of the league’s 16 teams had still never employed a black player. No city west of the Mississippi River would have its own team for eight more years, when Scully accompanied Brooklyn’s Dodgers west to Los Angeles.
But Scully is more than just an announcer who happened to stick around for a long time.
He’s also probably the best baseball broadcaster to ever live, and a man whose influence is felt across the American sports landscape. Scully began his career in an era when the vast majority of baseball games were not televised, and his style—conversational rather than kinetic—was perfectly suited to the medium.
Baseball is a game of stillness, where slight, almost imperceptible shifts carry great consequences. A Scully broadcast includes the standard description of home runs, ground ball outs, and intentional walks. But you also learn that the glare of the afternoon sun caused the right fielder to misjudge a fly ball, or that the pitcher shook off the catcher’s sign three times before throwing a slider in the dirt.
As with other broadcasters, Scully tells you what each player’s batting average is. But you’re also told that the center fielder’s father was a country doctor in Indiana, or that the shortstop toiled in the minor leagues for a full decade before earning his chance in the majors. It is these details that, whether you’re lying in bed with the radio on or stuck in traffic on the 405, turn each Scully broadcast into a vivid work of art.
More importantly, Scully also knows when to be silent. Consider one of his most famous broadcasts, that of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game on September 9, 1965. As the great left-handed pitcher struck out batter after batter in the later innings, Scully expertly conveyed the sense of excitement and wonder permeating Dodger Stadium. But when Koufax retired Harvey Kuenn to preserve the rare feat, Scully said nothing—the crowd’s reaction was all the color he needed. The remarkable conclusion to the 50-year-old game is preserved here:
As televised baseball spread in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, Scully was frequently assigned to the sport’s grandest events, and throughout his career he would cover 25 different World Series. These days are long gone—nowadays, Scully limits himself to Dodgers games on the West Coast. But to those fans lucky enough to listen to his broadcasts, it’s clear that the octogenarian isn’t coasting on his reputation. Scully knows the game’s contemporary players as well as the tens of thousands he’s described in the past, and is never caught unprepared. And in an age when announcers increasingly resort to forced folksiness or blatant homerism, Scully’s quiet professionalism remains as vital as ever.
Scully has intimated that 2016 will likely be his last season. He said last night, “I do feel in my bones … that will be enough.”