UPDATE: Eugene's Bi-Mart joins the effort. Walmart officials said the company would ' be a responsible seller of firearms and go beyond federal law by requiring customers to pass a background check before purchasing any firearm.'

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Fred Meyer stores in Oregon joined Walmart Thursday, March 1, to require gun buyers to be 21.Retail giants Walmart and Kroger joined Dick's Sporting Goods this week, saying they would no longer sell rifles or handguns to anyone younger than 21.

Walmart announced its change in company policy Wednesday, Feb. 28. Kroger announced the change Thursday morning, March 1, a day after Dick's Sporting Goods' Chief Executive Officer Edward W. Stack said his company would no longer sell semi-automatic military-style rifles at its Field & Stream stores and he called on Congress to ban the weapons and raise the age required to purchase a semi-automatic rifle to 21.

Both Walmart and Kroger's Fred Meyer stores stopped selling semi-automatic military-style rifles several years ago. Thursday's announcements only focused on the minimum age necessary to buy weapons in some of the stores.

Walmart has 43 stores in Oregon and 15 in the Portland area. Fred Meyer has 133 stores in Oregon, with four dozen stores in the region. Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer, has nearly 2,800 grocery and general merchandise stores in 35 states.

In its statement, Walmart officials said the company would " be a responsible seller of firearms and go beyond federal law by requiring customers to pass a background check before purchasing any firearm."

The company also said it would remove "items from our website resembling assault-style rifles, including nonlethal airsoft guns and toys."

"Our heritage as a company has always been in serving sportsmen and hunters, and we will continue to do so in a responsible way," according to the Walmart statement.

In a Thursday morning tweet, Kroger officials said the company was taking "a hard look" at its firearm sale policies in light of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, shooting. In response, the company said it would raise the minimum wage to 21 to buy a gun at Fred Meyer stores that sell weapons. It also said some stores might reduce or eliminate gun sales as stores are remodeled or updated "due to softer demand and changing customer preferences."

Also on Thursday, Eugene's Bi-Mart joined the group, saying in a news release that it would also increase to 21 the age required to buy a firearm at the company's stores, including its Cascade Farm and Outdoor stores. Bi-Mart has about 18 Portland-area stores.

"Our goal is to support responsible firearm use and make a positive contribution to the local, regional and national discussion of this issue," wrote Bi-Mart Vice President Don Leber.

COURTESY PHOTO: DICK'S SPORTING GOODS - Dick's Sporting Goods store on Southwest Boones Ferry Road in Tualatin is one of the company's five Portland-area stores. It has not sold semi-automatic military-style weapons since 2012.

'Help solve the problem'

Stack's directive on gun sales affects only one Oregon Field & Stream store in Medford. The company's Dick's Sporting Goods, which stopped selling the military-style guns in its stores following the December 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, has stores in Gresham, Tualatin, Tigard, Hillsboro, Clackamas and Salem.

Dick's Sporting Goods of Pittsburgh has 715 sports apparel and equipment stores around the country. It also owns Golf Galaxy and Field & Stream specialty stores.

In a Feb. 28 statement on the company website, Stack wrote that the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz, legally purchased a shotgun at one of its stores in November 2017. "It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting. But it could have been," Stack wrote in his statement. "Clearly this indicates on so many levels that the systems in place are not effective to protect our kids and our citizens. We believe it's time to do something about it."

Stack said that "thoughts and prayers are not enough."

"We support and respect the Second Amendment, and we recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens," according to Stack's statement. "But we have to help solve the problem that's in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that's taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America — our kids."

Stack called on Congress to "Ban assault-style firearms. Raise the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21. Ban high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. Require universal background checks that include relevant mental health information and previous interactions with the law. Ensure a complete universal database of those banned from buying firearms. Close the private sale and gun show loophole that waives the necessity of background checks."

"We hope others join us in this effort to let our kids know that their pleas are being taken seriously," Stack wrote. "Some will say these steps can't guarantee tragedies like Parkland will never happen again. They may be correct — but if common sense reform is enacted and even one life is saved, it will have been worth it. We deeply believe that this country's most precious gift is our children. They are our future. We must keep them safe."

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