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We have been living in an age of absolutism.

It is certainly true that throughout history there have been those who take a "hard line" on issues and causes and are not open to change, compromise, reconsideration or conversion. And there are demagogic leaders who aim for absolute authority and power and will never acknowledge being wrong or making a mistake.

Alongside absolutism is the dispute over truth or who determines what is truth, with some insisting, regardless of evidence, that they have a monopoly on truth or wisdom. And in some cases they back their claims and self-certainty on the principle of "God-given" rights.

We have seen these factors come into play on gun-related issues, climate change and abortion, to mention a few of the more obvious examples.

We can argue over the meaning of "God-given" in this context, but we know that for some, "gun rights" are sacrosanct.

Walmart's recent announcement that it is revising its policies on ammunition sales and will discourage customers from "open carry" in its stores is potentially very significant. Walmart's move came after a gunman went into a Walmart store in El Paso and killed 22 people, one of a series of mass shootings and other gunfire incidents and threats that have haunted the nation.

However, there are both opponents and proponents of the Walmart declaration who insist it will not have much effect.

Walmart is, however, the flagship of U.S. retail business and we have already seen, in the days since the Walmart declaration, that other leading retailers have followed suit -- beginning with Kroger, the largest grocery/supermarket chain, and CVS and Walgreen's, the largest drugstore chains. All have asked shoppers to stop displaying guns while in those stores, even in states that allow open carry.

The actions by Walmart and other mega-businesses won't necessarily have that much direct effect. Nonetheless, the move by the Arkansas-based and world's largest retailer may have symbolic significance in marking a turn, however limited, in the gun controversy. It's also worth noting that Walmart stock shares hit a 52-week high last week.

Nationally, Walmart has heretofore been something of a whipping boy among certain activist groups, primarily for some of its employee relations policies and wages.

Arkansas political figures have tended to treat Walmart as something of a sacred cow, and it has been interesting to note that in the current controversy they have been relatively quiet and not yet drawn into the fray. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, "You have to respect Walmart's decision to stop selling handgun ammunition, as the company is part of the private sector."

Walmart's new policies have been sharply criticized by the NRA, which said, "it is shameful to see Walmart succumb to the pressure of the anti-gun elites. Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by ones at other retailers who are more supportive of America's fundamental rights."

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon knew he would be criticized, particularly by the absolutists, but also would find support among those favoring restrictions on such points as background checks. McMillon, in announcing the new policy, referred to his and the company's Arkansas roots and heritage. He pointed out that company founder Sam Walton was an avid outdoorsman with a passion for quail hunting, and that Arkansas is a state known for duck and deer hunting. McMillon also noted that his family raised bird dogs when he was growing up in Jonesboro.

Walmart understands, according to McMillon, the responsibility that comes with being the world' largest retailer. "We are trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk" that events like those in El Paso will happen again, he said.

The Walmart action surprised many, but there are also potentially meaningful changes in Texas. There, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick caught many by surprise when he said he is "willing to take an arrow" and defy the NRA to close a loophole in gun-purchasing background in the Lone Star State.

On the other hand, Texas Republican State Rep. Matt Schaefer said, "I am not going to use the evil act of a handful to people to diminish the God-given rights of my fellow Texans."

This example of absolutism is an indication of what those favoring change are up against -- a 100 percent or zero approach.

Anytime a prominent Texas Republican such as Patrick defies the NRA and presses to close loopholes in gun-purchase background checks, it represents change, however modest it might be.

Patrick, usually an NRA ally, said "it's common sense" to tighten background check laws. He says this is because in many cases stranger-to-stranger sales are now exempt from the requirement that buyers be vetted through a federal database of those not eligible to purchase firearms.

Indeed, it is time for common sense. Walmart's McMillon said, "The status quo is unacceptable." And he's right.

Walmart's' action might offer a step away from rigid absolutism -- in a policy area that has been dominated by it.

Commentary on 09/11/2019

Print Headline: Walmart faces down absolutist approach

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