It’s been less than a week since a white nationalist murdered 22 people and injured 24 more at a Walmart in El Paso, but the retail chain has already taken decisive action to hopefully prevent any future such tragedies. Vice reports that Walmart has begun removing all advertising for violent videogames from their stores, including signs, demos and any other kind of promotions, because, presumably, this overt racist who left behind a manifesto praising the massacre in Christchurch and repeating stock white genocide nonsense probably played a Call of Duty game at some point in his life. Sure, Walmart will keep selling guns—the things that actually kill people, and that murderous racists like the shooter in El Paso buy specifically to kill people—but at least now nobody innocently looking for always low prices will be enticed to murder by the sight of a cardboard Master Chief standee.
This shouldn’t surprise anybody. This has been the playbook of almost every NRA-approved politician for at least two decades now. In the wake of the El Paso shooting Republicans like Texas Lieutenant Governor (and former right-wing talk radio host) Dan Patrick immediately tried to pin the blame on games instead of real issues like the easy accessibility of guns, Trump’s encouragement of white nationalism and violence, or our country’s poor treatment of mental health problems. This is all despite repeated studies indicating there’s no direct link between videogames and real-world violence. And with the right-wing echo chamber ready and willing to repeat all the anti-gun control propaganda they can possibly squeeze between ads for weight loss scams and dick pills, it’s a given that the Fox News-addled Boomers of America will line up for the anti-games campaign.
The Walmart situation offers such a stark and unambiguous window into the witless hypocrisy and scapegoatism that fuels this “blame anything but the guns” school of gun violence debate. In response to their own customers and employees being brutally gunned down within one of their stores, Walmart, the biggest seller of guns in America, isn’t changing anything about how it sells guns and ammo, but will stop running ads for Fortnite, a massively popular game that’s also played in dozens of countries that don’t have anything close to the gun violence epidemic seen in America. This is a cynical attempt by Walmart to seem responsible in the wake of the El Paso shooting, while still profiting off the gun industry and without alienating the strand of modern conservatism that apparently believes gun ownership is the most important part of being an American. (Yes, Walmart stopped selling assault rifles and semi-automatic guns in 2015, but why the hell was an all-purpose, family-friendly discount department store selling AR-15s in the first place?)
I don’t really like sticking up for “violent” videogames. The politics of most military shooters are absolutely terrible, and I’ve always preferred my gaming violence to be more abstract or comical than the semi-realism of a first-person shooter. I hate the aggro schoolyard nihilism of Grand Theft Auto and would rather play Animal Crossing or sudoku than almost any Call of Duty-style war game. But blaming games for what happened in El Paso is so asinine, and so insulting to everybody’s intelligence, that it’s impossible to think anybody could ever do so in good faith. Blaming games for gun massacres—especially ones committed by overt white nationalists who openly praise other white nationalist mass murderers—is a transparent attempt to change the subject from the actual causes of our gun violence epidemic. By carrying water for the anti-games argument, and continuing to sell guns and ammo, Walmart proves that they really don’t care about finding a solution to this crisis. They’ll continue to prioritize profits over public safety, paying lip service to the victims who tragically lost their lives in El Paso and at the other mass shootings happening every day across America, while helping to confuse and contaminate the debate over how to fix this by blaming games instead of addressing the real factors.
It’s foolish to expect Walmart to show any kind of responsibility to the communities that they’ve systematically upended over the last 40 years, of course, or to the country as a whole. This is the same company that spent the ‘80s entering new towns, driving most competitors out of business, and then abandoned those locations in the ‘90s and ‘00s to build even larger stores right down the street. (If you want to find the Walmart in almost any small American town, find the abandoned, derelict Walmart from the ‘80s and just drive a few miles.) There’s no responsibility in retail, at least not with national chains, no matter how much responsibility they effectively annex for themselves by taking over a town’s retail economy. Walmart might be fading alongside the rest of brick-and-mortar retail, but they’re still the dominant, one-stop retail shop for so many small towns, and so they still have a massive responsibility for doing what’s best for those communities and an inordinate influence upon American culture at large. It’s not surprising to see something as institutionally irresponsible as Walmart shirk that responsibility by furthering a campaign against violent videogames that exists solely to distract from the actual issues, but hey, at least it’s still disgusting.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.