Lapses in background checks at California stores lead to calls for wider inspections.
SIMI VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
In the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart here, you can buy camp stoves, fishing tackle, and baseballs. But you can't - for the next few days, at least - buy the rifles and shotguns that have made the retail giant one of the largest sellers of firearms nationwide.
In a move that antigun groups say warrants similar action across all 50 states, California recently announced Wal-Mart would temporarily halt firearms sales within the state after justice officials found nearly 500 violations of gun laws by just six stores in one month. It's a setback for the retailer which, Thursday, was given notice that the state of New York intends to sue the corporation for selling toy guns that the state says could be mistaken for real weapons.
In California, investigators found illegal sales to felons, scores of firearms released to buyers before the 10-day waiting period and background checks were completed, and failures to identify purchasers through thumbprints and a driver's license - as required by state law.
"Public safety is severely jeopardized when gun dealers provide firearms to people who are prohibited from possessing, much less purchasing, them," said state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. He announced that Wal-Mart had immediately suspended the sale of firearms at 188 stores following the inspections in the Central Valley and Sacramento areas. The move is temporary until the company corrects the problems.
Groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence say that if one large retailer in one state has been found guilty of so many violations, similar investigations in other states and other retailers are likely to find even more widespread violations.
"One of the biggest problems causing the ease of getting weapons into criminals' hands has been the growth of these big superstores where employees are responsible for products ranging from paint and lawn furniture to appliances and guns," says Luis Tolley, California spokesman for the Brady campaign.