Wal-Mart accepted White House invite, but met with the AG, not the VP

Friday, January 11, 2013 - 8:32am

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Wal-Mart, which had initially turned down a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden's gun violence panel, did meet with administration officials on Thursday -- but instead of sitting down with Biden, the company's representative met with Attorney General Eric Holder.

The Justice Department said Wal-Mart would be one of 10 retailers at the meeting. It is the nation's largest retailer and is understood by analysts to also be the largest single seller of guns. Other stores at the 3:15 p.m. meeting included Dick's Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shops.

Neither party has addressed why the meeting was led by Holder and not Biden -- who was appointed by President Barack Obama last month to lead the administration's efforts to stem gun violence. The Justice Department, the White House nor Wal-Mart commented after the meeting.

Biden, however, sat down with other groups Thursday, including gun owners and gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association. Later in the day, he met with representatives of the entertainment and video game industries.

Reporters were allowed only into the meeting room at the beginning of Biden's first session. Biden said he realizes the effort "requires all the stakeholders to give us their best ideas as to how we deal with what is -- as I said at the outset -- is a complicated problem."

The NRA sent James J. Baker, the head of its federal relations office, to meet with the vice president and other administration officials on the panel. NRA President David Keene said on CNN after the meeting that his group sees little common ground with the White House and that "in a sense they were checking the box" by inviting the NRA. Baker served as the NRA's chief lobbyist in the 1990s, when Biden was serving as a senator from Delaware.

Wal-Mart said earlier in the week that its representatives had spoken to the vice president's staff and could not attend because they were obligated to be at monthly sales meetings at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, which ""have been on the calendar for months."

The decision was widely scrutinized, with many questioning how Wal-Mart could be a part of the discussion without listening to what other parties were saying at the White House.

In response to the criticism, Wal-Mart said it would attend.

"We underestimated the expectation to attend the meeting on Thursday in person, so we are sending an appropriate representative to participate," said Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar.

Tovar said Wal-Mart has been "very purposeful" about striking the right balance between serving hunters and sportsman and ensuring that it sells firearms responsibly. He also said the retailer is committed to staying engaged in the discussion about the right path forward with lawmakers.

Wal-Mart sells guns in roughly 1,800 of its 4,000 stores, according to Tovar. It sells semiautomatic assault rifles, such as the ones used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in about 1,200 stores.

Biden has said he will submit his recommendations to Obama by Tuesday.

-- CNNMoney's Emily Jane Fox contributed to this report.

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