Walmart removes firearms, ammunition from floor display as protests rage in U.S

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc said on Wednesday it shifted firearms and ammunition out of sales floors of some U.S. stores amid nationwide protests over the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police last week.

“We have temporarily removed firearms and ammunition from the sales floor in some stores out of an abundance of caution,” the nation’s largest retailer said in a statement.

“Those items are available for purchase, but are being stored in a secure room.”

Walmart, which stopped selling ammunition for handguns and some assault-style rifles in its U.S. stores last year, does not sell firearms in many of the major urban markets experiencing issues due to looting.

Several retailers, from Target, Apple to high-end apparel brands, have been looted and damaged as protesters turned violent in places including New York and Chicago, forcing them to reduce store hours or close shop.

This comes as U.S. retailers were already reeling under falling sales due to the pandemic-led stores closures.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Judge blocks California law that required background checks to buy ammunition

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge has blocked a California law that required background checks for people buying ammunition, saying it violated the constitutional right to bear arms.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego issued a preliminary injunction on Thursday halting the law, ruling in favor of lobby group California Rifle & Pistol Association, which asked him to stop the checks.

“California’s new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured,” Benitez wrote in the order granting the group’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

The order also described the law as “onerous and convoluted” and “constitutionally defective”.

California Governor Gavin Newsom had supported such legislation from before he took office. His administration was disappointed by the ruling and was considering the next steps, a spokeswoman said.

It was not immediately clear whether the state attorney general’s office would appeal or seek to stay the order.

Gun control advocates criticized Thursday’s ruling and felt it was depriving Californians of an important public safety law.

“This decision is patently wrong and we expect that it will be reversed on appeal,” Kris Brown, president of gun violence prevention group Brady said in an emailed statement.

The lawsuit was originally filed by the California Rifle & Pistol Association and later joined by, among others, U.S. Olympic Gold Medal shooter Kim Rhode.

Gun control advocates in the United States, where gun stores were allowed to remain open, have previously said they feared that an increased ownership of firearms during the coronavirus pandemic could lead to more domestic violence. California has ordered some gun stores to shut during the outbreak.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed an attempt by gun rights advocates to overturn President Donald Trump’s ban on “bump stocks” – devices that enable semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like a machine gun – implemented after a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017.

Numerous gun control proposals have been thwarted in the U.S. Congress, largely because of opposition by Republican lawmakers and the influential National Rifle Association gun rights lobby.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Editing by Timothy Heritage and David Gregorio)

Walmart to stop selling ammunition for handguns, assault-style weapons

FILE PHOTO: Walmart's logo is seen outside one of the stores in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc said on Tuesday it would discontinue sales of ammunition for handguns and some assault-style rifles in stores across the United States, in response to the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

The largest U.S. arms retailer, which has been under pressure to change its policies on gun sales, also said it would discontinue handgun sales in Alaska, the only state where it still sells these guns.

Walmart has already ended sales of assault rifle and raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21. The latest move will leave it focused on weapons for hunting, including deer rifles, shotguns and related ammunition.

The company will stop selling all handgun ammunition and some short-barrel rifle ammunition, such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber after clearing current stock. While short-barrel ammunition is commonly used in some hunting rifles for small animals such as prairie dogs, they can also be used in military-style weapons with high-capacity magazines.

The retailer said it took the action following the death of 22 people in a mass shooting in a Walmart store in Texas as well as deadly shootings in Ohio and Saturday’s incident in Midland and Odessa, Texas.

Just last month, the company said it would not change its policy on selling firearms even as it took down signs and playable demos of violent video games.

“As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same,” Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said in a letter to Walmart’s associates.

The company added that its latest actions would reduce its market share of ammunition from around 20% to a range of about 6% to 9%, and would trend toward the lower end of that range over time.

McMillon said he would send letters to the White House and the Congressional leadership, urging the government to strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who could pose an imminent danger.

“These horrific events occur and then the spotlight fades … Given our decades of experience selling firearms, we are also offering to serve as a resource in the national debate on responsible gun sales,” he said.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

After Syria fall-out, Hamas ties with Iran restored: Hamas chief

Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh (R) and Hamas Gaza leader Yehya Al-Sinwar (L) attend a news conference as the wife of slain senior Hamas militant Mazen Fuqaha gestures, in Gaza City May 11, 2017.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Hamas and Iran have patched up relations, the Palestinian militant group’s new leader in Gaza said on Monday, and Tehran is again its biggest backer after years of tension over the civil war in Syria.

“Relations with Iran are excellent and Iran is the largest supporter of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades with money and arms,” Yehya al-Sinwar, referring to Hamas’s armed wing, told reporters.

Neither Hamas nor Iran have disclosed the full scale of Tehran’s backing. But regional diplomats have said Iran’s financial aid for the Islamist movement was dramatically reduced in recent years and directed to the Qassam Brigades rather than to Hamas’s political institutions.

Hamas angered Iran by refusing to support Iran’s ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the six-year-old civil war.

“The relationship today is developing and returning to what it was in the old days,” Sinwar, who was elected in February, said in his first briefing session with reporters.

“This will be reflected in the resistance (against Israel) and in (Hamas’s) agenda to achieve the liberation,” he said.

Hamas seeks Israel’s destruction. It has fought three wars with Israel since seizing the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

Sinwar, a former Hamas security chief who had spent 20 years in Israeli jails, said the group is always preparing for a possible war with Israel. But he said such a conflict was not in Hamas’s strategic interests at the moment.

“We are not interested in a war, we do not want war and we want to push it backward as much as we could so that our people will relax and take their breath and in the same time we are building our power,” he said. “We do not fear war and we are fully ready for it.”

Hamas and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, are locked in political dispute over the issue of Palestinian unity.

Abbas’s slashing of PA funding for Israeli-supplied electricity to Gaza has led to prolonged daily blackouts in the coastal enclave.

Sinwar, in his remarks, invited Abbas’s Fatah movement for talks on forming a new national unity government to administer both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

There was no immediate response from PA officials. Abbas has called on Hamas to first relinqish control of Gaza before he removes economic sanctions and to prepare for the formation of a new unity government that will be tasked with holding presidential and parliament elections.

 

 

 

 

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Richard Balmforth)

 

Ukraine sees Russian hand in ammo warehouse blasts

Flames shoot into the sky from a warehouse storing tank ammunition at a military base in the town of Balaklia (Balakleya), Kharkiv region, Ukraine, March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Alexander Sadovoy

By Pavel Polityuk

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine suspects the Russian military or its separatist rebel proxies were responsible for blowing up a warehouse storing tank ammunition at an eastern military base early on Thursday morning, Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said.

Fire and explosions caused the detonation of ammunition in several sites at the base, possibly set off by a drone attack or a radio or timed device, Poltorak told a press conference.

Nobody was hurt but around 20,000 people have been evacuated from the surrounding area in the eastern Kharkiv region. Firefighters have struggled to douse the flames and explosions at the site continue, sending clouds of thick grey smoke into the sky.

“We have a ‘friendly’ country – the Russian Federation,” Poltorak said. “I think that first of all it could be representatives who help the (separatist) groups that carry out combat missions,” he said.

Ukraine did not provide evidence of Russian or rebel involvement. The Russian military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The base, which held about 138,000 tonnes of ammunition, is located in the city of Balaklia, about 100 km (60 miles) from the frontline of Ukraine’s war against Russian-backed separatists.

The warehouse was guarded by around 1,000 people, some of whom heard the sound of an aircraft just before the explosions.

Military spokesman Oleksander Motuzyanyk said security around other bases was being beefed up. Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman was due to fly to the area.

A third of the base is still burning and the airspace above it was closed off, Poltorak said, adding that the attack would not significantly affect Ukraine’s military capacity.

Saboteurs previously tried to destroy the same base using drones in 2015, another military spokesman, Yuzef Venskovich, told the 112 TV channel.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Ukraine and the separatist rebels since 2014, and a ceasefire agreed in Minsk in 2015 is routinely violated.

Russia has repeatedly denied sending troops or military equipment to eastern Ukraine.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Matthias Williams)