New York Church Pursues Court Challenge of Walmart Over Gun Sales

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As a Walmart shareholder, New York’s Trinity Church said the mega-retailer’s gun sales are its business, and it wants the store to exercise greater oversight of the firearms sold there, especially high-capacity assault rifles.

The Rev. Dr. James Cooper, rector of the Episcopalian church, said he wants Walmart to include a shareholder proposal in April’s proxy materials, according to Forbes. If passed, it could go to a vote this summer at the annual meeting.

The proposal would require Walmart’s board to oversee the sale of “products that especially endanger public safety and well-being, risk impairing the company’s reputation, or offend the family and community values integral to the company’s brand,” according to a document first filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in late 2014, Forbes reported.

Cooper told Forbes that the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, spurred the church to action, leading it to identify products like high-capacity assault rifles that should have board approval before being sold to the public.

In 2013, Trinity Church recommended that Walmart’s board adopt policies for selling assault weapons, but it was blocked for “interfering with operations,” Reuters said.

In November 2014, a Delaware judge ordered the measure be put back on the ballot because it may “transcend business matters” and “addresses board policies, not operations.” Not surprisingly, Walmart appealed the action.

Still, Trinity Church continues to push the matter. “We intend to campaign vigorously for the adoption of our proposal, and we feel it is important to raise the issue of board responsibility and accountability for good corporate citizenship,” Cooper said on a Trinity Church blog.

In a statement to Forbes, Walmart said:

The District Court’s ruling has far-reaching implications for the entire retail industry, because it could force public companies to have a shareholder vote to make decisions on ordinary business matters, such as what products a retailer sells. The ruling reverses 40-year-old SEC guidance allowing shareholder proposals to be excluded if they involved a company’s ordinary business operations.

Trinity’s proposal would interfere with Walmart’s ordinary business operations by seeking to regulate Walmart’s daily decisions on the hundreds of thousands of products sold in our stores, wholesale warehouse clubs, and online.

Walmart will go to court with Trinity later this month or early March, Forbes said.

“We would just like [Walmart] to tell us they have a system in place at the board level to protect the reputation of the company, its values, and protect the citizens who live in that community from extreme harm,” Cooper said.

The church owns about $300,000 worth of Walmart shares, Forbes reported.

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