Walmart is reacting to a mass shooting that left 22 dead at one of its stores in El Paso, Texas, by removing violent video game and movie advertising from its stores. The retailer has not announced any plans to curtail its sales of firearms and ammunition.
The retail giant instructed its U.S. employees this week to immediately remove “any signing or displays that contain violent images or aggressive behaviour,” according to screenshots of an internal memo circulating on Twitter and Reddit.
The memo specifically instructs employees to immediately switch off violent video game demos on Xbox and Playstation consoles, cancel events promoting “combat style or third-person shooter games,” turn off “hunting season videos that may be playing in Sporting Goods” and “verify that no movies depicting violence are playing in Electronics.” It also tells employees to check all signage in their stores and remove anything referring to “combat or third-person shooter video games.”
Walmart spokesperson Tara House says the move is not a change in the company’s long-term video game assortment.
“We’ve taken this action out of respect for the incidents of the past week,” House told The Associated Press in a statement.
There is no proven link between violent video games and mass shootings.
WATCH: Sandy Hook lawyer blames mass shooting on violent video games
The move comes less than a week after a lone gunman walked into a Walmart in El Paso and opened fire with an assault-style rifle, killing 22 people. Police say the suspect posted a racist screed on a far-right messaging site before the attack.
Two days later, another man killed nine people in a mass shooting at a nightclub in Dayton, Ohio.
The back-to-back incidents have shocked the world and renewed the debate over gun control in the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump and several Republican lawmakers responded to the outcry by blaming violent video games and mental illness for the shootings.
“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” Trump said in a White House address on Monday. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”
He added: “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
WATCH: Trump responds to mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso
Trump’s words echoed a conversation that took place a day earlier on TV show Fox & Friends. In a segment that aired Sunday morning, Texas’ lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, urged the federal government to “do something about the video game industry.”
Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader in the House, also blamed video games for gun violence in a separate Fox interview on Sunday.
“We’ve watched from studies, shown before, what it does to individuals, and you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others,” he said.
McCarthy and Patrick did not provide any evidence to support their claims.
Video games and action movies are sold and consumed throughout the world. No country has more guns or mass shootings than the United States.
Trump also blamed video games in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in March 2018. He summoned several video game industry executives to the White House for a summit on the issue, but did not take any further steps to address it.
The Entertainment Software Association, the biggest video game trade group, has repeatedly said that there is no causal connection between video games and violence.
“More than 165 million Americans enjoy video games, and billions of people play video games worldwide,” the group said in a statement earlier this week. “Yet other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the U.S.”
WATCH: Walmart says it will continue to sell guns at El Paso location where shooting occurred
Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University who focuses on video games, found in his research that men who commit severe acts of violence actually play violent video games less than the average male. About 20 per cent were interested in violent video games, compared with 70 per cent of the general population, he explained in his 2017 book Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong.
Markey found in a separate study that violence tends to dip when a new violent video game or movie comes out, perhaps because individuals with violent tendencies are busy consuming those products rather than committing violent acts.
“The general story is people who play video games right after might be a little hopped up and jerky but it doesn’t fundamentally alter who they are,” he told The Associated Press. “It is like going to see a sad movie. It might make you cry but it doesn’t make you clinically depressed.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the company will look to learn from and understand the “many important issues” arising from the shooting, “as well as those that have been raised in the broader national discussion around gun violence.”
“We will be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses, and we will act in a way that reflects the best values and ideals of our company,” McMillon wrote in bold text.
— With files from the Associated Press