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UPDATE 2-Walmart to stop selling ammunition for handguns, assault-style weapons

Nivedita Balu

weapons@ (Adds background, NRA response, Everytown for Gun Safety comment, Breakingviews link)

Sept 3 (Reuters) - Walmart Inc said on Tuesday it would discontinue sales of ammunition for handguns and some assault-style rifles in stores across the United States, in response to recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

Walmart, the largest U.S. firearms retailer, and other corporations have increasingly joined the debate over guns and gun safety as mass shootings have proliferated and while elected leaders consider options.

Walmart, like rivals Kroger-owned Fred Meyer and Dick's Sporting Goods, has already ended sales of assault rifle and raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21.

Bank of America last year said it would no longer lend to companies making military-style firearms for civilians, and airlines Delta and United last year said they were no longer offering discounted rates to the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The latest move will leave Walmart focused on weapons for hunting, including deer rifles, shotguns and related ammunition.

"The general principle is if we don't sell the firearm we wouldn't sell the ammunition," a spokesman for Walmart told Reuters.

Walmart will stop selling all handgun ammunition and some short-barrel rifle ammunition such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber after clearing current stock. Walmart did not comment on sales of other caliber ammunition.

While short-barrel ammunition is commonly used in some hunting rifles for small animals such as prairie dogs, they can also be used in military-style weapons with high-capacity magazines.

The NRA said Walmart's actions would not make the country any safer.

"It is shameful to see Walmart succumb to the pressure of the anti-gun elites. Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by lines at other retailers who are more supportive of America's fundamental freedoms."

Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, applauded Walmart's actions, saying "Walmart has its finger on the pulse of what Americans want."

Walmart also said it would discontinue handgun sales in Alaska, the only state where it still sells these guns, and asked customers not to openly carry firearms in its stores, even in states that allowed so-called "open carry" of guns.

"This decision reflects a clear reality Americans want to be kept safe from gun violence," said John Feinblatt, president of an advocacy group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Just last month, Walmart said it would not change its policy on selling firearms even as it took down signs and playable demos of violent video games.

On Friday, Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said in a letter to Walmart's associates, "As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same."

McMillon said he would send letters to the White House and the Congressional leadership, urging the government to strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who could pose an imminent danger.

"These horrific events occur and then the spotlight fades ... Given our decades of experience selling firearms, we are also offering to serve as a resource in the national debate on responsible gun sales," he said in the letter.

The company added that its latest actions would reduce its market share of ammunition from around 20% to a range of about 6% to 9%, and would trend toward the lower end of that range over time.

U.S. gun and ammunition stores had total sales of about $11 billion last year, of which 19% was ammunition, according to market research firm IBISWorld.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu and Soundarya J in Bengaluru Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Maju Samuel)