Former Walmart US CEO: Gun regulation is the responsibility of the government, not retailers

  • Former Walmart U.S. CEO calls gun violence a "crisis."
  • But the problem will not be solved by retailers limiting gun sales while firearms are still legal, he says.
  • Instead, state and federal legislators should regulate guns.

Former Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon said gun sales should be regulated by state and federal legislators, not by retailers.

"[Gun violence] is a crisis and needs to be dealt with," Simon said Tuesday on CNBC's "Power Lunch.

"Businesses can be part of the solution," Simon said. But simply not selling guns anymore would not solve the problem, he argued.

"In fact, it would probably make it more dangerous," said Simon, who now serves on the board of Darden Restaurants, an American multibrand restaurant operator.

"If they are legal, and they are today, you want responsible retailers selling [guns] so they can be documented and videotaped and tracked," he said. "Responsible retailers help the police in the event something happens."

Simon was responding to a DealBook column in The New York Times on Monday in which Times columnist and CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin argued that if Washington "shows little interest in limiting the sales of assault weapons" then maybe businesses should.

"There's a real opportunity for the business community to fill the void and prove that all that talk about moral responsibility isn't hollow," Sorkin wrote.

Sorkin pointed out that businesses such as Paypal and Square have long said they won't permit consumers to buy firearms on their platforms. He suggested Mastercard and Visa should follow suit and refuse to do business with retailers that sell assault weapons — including AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, the same kind used in the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed. If they did so, retailers would stop selling firearms because they don't want to be cut off from the credit card system, Sorkin wrote.

Jason Zielinski shows a customer an AR-15 style rifle at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store.
Getty Images
Jason Zielinski shows a customer an AR-15 style rifle at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store.

"This will not solve the problem," Simon said.

However, Steve Odland, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Committee for Economic Development, said Sorkin raised "a very good point."

"We think CEOs should talk about these issues, and maybe not take sides and say I'm pro-gun control or I'm anti-gun control, but CEOs and business leaders can raise their hands and say, 'This is an issue that's tearing at our society and needs to be addressed,'" he said Tuesday on CNBC's "Closing Bell."

But anytime business leaders put pressure on politicians over social issues they are in danger of alienating their customer base, Odland said.

"Customers, employees, owners, communities are all split on these issues," he said.

Walmart currently sells pistols, shotguns and rifles, but stopped selling assault rifles in 2015.

Simon said more than 5 million AR-15s are currently in circulation in the U.S.

"There are still guns out there, and they're still legal, and they're still for sale," Simon said.

He said the responsibility lies with state and federal governments "to protect the population [and] to provide for the general welfare" of the people.

"They need to step up to that," Simon said. "And the retailers can support them. But retailers simply dropping gun sales at this point today ... it won't solve the problem. ... They still would be sold outside of the traditional retail chain, at gun shows and private retail sales where they're not tracked. What we really need to do is fix the problem."

Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.