Andrew Ross Sorkin On His Open Letter to Walmart

Memorial at site of Walmart shooting

In the wake of the massacre at a Walmart store in El Paso, New York Times columnist and CNBC’s Squawk Box co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin published an open letter to the retailer’s chief executive Doug McMillon. The message? “You have the power to curb gun violence. Do it.” 

Sorkin’s letter pointed to Walmart’s status as the largest retailer of guns in the country, and the steps it could take to alter the entire gun ecosystem in the country. Sorkin spoke to Katie Couric Media about what inspired him to write the letter and the ways in which he hopes Walmart will start to use its influence to reduce gun violence.

Katie Couric: Why did you decide to write your open letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon?
Andrew Ross Sorkin: I’ve known Doug for many years and I’ve always respected his genuine intent to do the right thing as well as his openness to looking at challenges in new ways. This weekend hit everyone hard. I’ve spent the past year writing many columns about the role that business can play in the gun debate — and more broadly in society, especially at such a divisive time politically. Specifically, I identified in an investigation for the New York Times last year that a majority of mass shootings are accomplished using guns bought legally and for the purpose of carrying out a massacre. In other words, the laws are not working. 

And, crucially, the shooters often couldn’t buy the guns, ammunition and other gear without the loans provided by credit cards. That means that businesses — from the retailers to banks — all are important potential choke points in the system if the business community were to actively choose to create meaningful solutions and safeguards.  

You wrote that, as the biggest retailer of guns in the U.S., Walmart has the potential to have a huge impact in changing the country’s gun ecosystem. What do you think the company should do?
Unfortunately, too many CEOs are scared of offending politicians and certain vocal customers who believe that any sensible approaches that might make it marginally more complicated to buy guns will infringe on their 2nd Amendment rights. Given Walmart is now is a genuine victim of gun violence, it would seem a natural issue for the company to use its influence to press for not only more sensible gun laws, but it could use its leverage to create and establish best-in-class practices around gun sales that could be made an industry-wide standard. It would have to use its leverage over the gun makers, banks and other to make that happen. 

Are there any other retailers that have successfully changed their gun policies that Walmart could view as examples?
There are no great examples of success yet. Dicks Sporting Goods stopped selling guns and has lobbied in Washington but doesn’t have the heft of Walmart. 

Now that your letter has been published, what do you hope happens next?
My hope is that the letter will create a national conversation — and a conversation inside the boardrooms of companies everywhere. 

Have you heard from Walmart at all since your letter was published?
The good news is that I heard from dozens of executives in industries after the column ran who are talking about what they can do. We’ll see what happens next. As for Walmart, I’ve been in touch with them before and after the letter was published, but it is too early for them to react. They are still dealing with the horrific events of the weekend and that’s where their attention should be. When things settle down and senior management at Walmart is able to come up for air, I hope they will see the opportunity this moment presents. 

This interview appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter.