NEW YORK • Walmart, the United States' largest retailer, said it would stop selling ammunition for handguns and some assault-style rifles in all its stores across the nation, and called for action on gun safety after a string of mass shootings, including at Walmart stores in Texas and Mississippi.
Walmart on Tuesday also called for a strengthening of background checks for gun buyers and action to take guns out of the hands of those who pose a risk of violence. The call was followed by an almost identical message from grocery operator Kroger.
Both Walmart and Kroger, which exited the firearms and ammunition business last year when its Fred Meyer unit stopped such sales, said they are now asking customers not to bring guns into their stores, even when allowed by local laws.
The two retailers are among a growing number of US companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, that are responding to the debate over guns and gun safety as mass shootings have proliferated, risking backlash from powerful gun owners' groups while elected leaders consider options.
In a letter to employees, Walmart's chief executive Doug McMillon said: "It's clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable. As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week and we will never be the same."
Kroger, in a statement from corporate affairs vice-president Jessica Adelman, spoke about "the growing chorus of Americans who are no longer comfortable with the status quo and are advocating for concrete and common-sense gun reforms".
Kroger said it was "joining those encouraging our elected leaders to pass laws" on background checks and keeping firearms out of the hands of those at risk for violence.
Mr McMillon said Walmart's decision follows his visit to El Paso, Texas, earlier last month after a gunman went on a rampage at a store there, killing 22 people.
Mr McMillon, in the letter, described himself as a gun owner and said that company founder Sam Walton was "an avid outdoorsman who had a passion for quail hunting".
Walmart will stop handgun sales in Alaska, the only state where it still sells handguns. The halt on the ammunition and handgun sales will come into effect when current inventory is sold out.
Kroger had sold guns in 43 of its Fred Meyer stores in the Pacific North-west and Alaska before announcing in March last year that it would exit the firearms business.
The retailers' latest moves sparked immediate reaction from groups on both sides of the gun control debate.
"The tide is turning," said Ms Shannon Watts, founder of Mums Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group. The announcements "send a strong cultural signal that when lawmakers don't protect their constituents, companies will protect their customers", she added.
The National Rifle Association, a pro-gun group with deep political ties, said Walmart was succumbing to pressure from "anti-gun elites".
"Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by lines at other retailers who are more supportive of America's fundamental freedoms," it added.
It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Kroger move.