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Walmart workers grapple with heightened fears in the aftermath of deadly shootings (WMT)

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  • Some Walmart employees are grappling with safety concerns after shootings at stores last week that killed at least 22 people at in El Paso, Texas, and two people in Southaven, Mississippi.
  • "At the end of the day if someone wants to walk in my store with an AK-47 and start shooting there’s nothing I can do about it," a Connecticut Walmart employee said. "It’s unfortunate that’s the world we live in."
  • Other workers said the threat of shootings is pervasive in all public spaces, and there’s nothing Walmart can do beyond its current security and training measures to protect against potential threats. 
  • A Walmart spokesman said, "Nothing is more important to us that the safety of our associates. Anytime an associate has a concern, a question or something doesn’t feel right, we want them reaching out and raising those concerns."
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Some Walmart employees are grappling with safety concerns in the aftermath of two deadly shootings last week at the retailer’s stores, according to interviews with seven store-based workers in seven states. 

Ashley Brown, who works at a Walmart store in Sterling Heights, Michigan, said she’s been thinking about her plan of escape in the case of a violent act.

As a cashier stationed at the front of the store, she said, "my line of defense is either run out the nearest door or somehow make it to the back."

Read more: Walmart corporate employee who urged gun sales protest says 30 people walked off the job in support. Now he’s sending a petition with 46,000 signatures to the CEO.

An Arkansas-based Walmart employee said she carries pepper spray on her keychain to protect herself against potential threats.

"I don’t really feel safe," said the worker, who asked to remain anonymous. "My state has concealed carry, and associates aren’t allowed to arm themselves."

Walmart allows shoppers to carry guns in stores where state and local laws permit. Employees, or associates, as Walmart calls them, are not permitted to carry guns in stores.

Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg said the safety of employees is a top concern.

Read more: Walmart CEO promises ‘thoughtful and deliberate’ response to 2 deadly shootings at its stores

"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our associates," he said. "Anytime an associate has a concern, a question or something doesn’t feel right, we want them reaching out and raising those concerns."

"Some of the ways they can do this is through their store, market or regional leadership, with their asset protection team and even through our emergency operations center," he said. "We have a lot of resources in place and we want our people taking advantage of them."

Walmart workers and customers say safety fears are pervasive in all public spaces

Walmart requires employees to take computer-based active-shooter training every three months. The video-based training focuses on three pillars of safety during an act of violence: avoid, deny, and defend.

An Ohio-based employee said she hoped the training would be effective in the case of a violent threat, but "you will never know until you are put in the situation."

Three workers said the frequent occurrence of shootings in the US makes them fear violence in any public place.

"I feel as safe here [at Walmart] as anywhere today," said an employee at a Virginia Walmart store who asked to remain anonymous. "Does anyone feel safe?"

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She said she feels "terrible" and "sick" about the recent shootings, but "you could go to the library or you could go to a movie or go out to eat" and face the same threat.

"It’s our society now," she said. 

An employee of a Connecticut Walmart store expressed a similar sentiment. 

"At the end of the day if someone wants to walk in my store with an AK-47 and start shooting there’s nothing I can do about it," said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous. "It’s unfortunate that’s the world we live in."

Read more: Walmart says it won’t change gun sales policies in wake of 2 deadly shootings at its stores

He said he believes there’s little Walmart could do to prevent future violence, beyond the systems it already has in place.

An employee at an Alabama Walmart store agreed, saying, "I honestly don’t know what Walmart can do."

Some Walmart employees believe Walmart should be taking a stronger stance against guns.

A group of corporate employees launched a petition this week that asks Walmart to stop selling guns and ammunition in its stores, ban people from carrying guns onto company property, and cease donations to politicians who accept money from the National Rifle Association. The petition has gathered more than 54,000 signatures since Tuesday.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon on Tuesday said the company will be "thoughtful and deliberate" in its responses to the shootings and will consider issues raised in the "broader national discussion around gun violence."

Police respond to potential threats at Walmart stores amid heightened fears

In the aftermath of the shootings, Walmart stores across the country have dealt with numerous potential threats amid heightened fears around mass shootings.

A Missouri man was arrested Thursday after authorities said he was wearing body armor and carrying a loaded rifle through a store, the New York Times reported. No shots were fired and no one was hurt. Earlier in the week, a Florida man was accused of calling a Walmart store and threatening to "shoot up" the building. Police also arrested a 13-year-old boy this week after they said he made threats on social media targeting a Texas Walmart store.

But business at a Richmond, Virginia, Walmart this week didn’t appear to be affected in any way by the recent violence.

The parking lot outside the store on Monday was nearly full, and inside, it was bustling with dozens of customers.

Two customers said they are increasingly wary of shootings in public places but don’t believe the risk level at Walmart is any higher than at a movie theater, shopping mall, restaurant, or elsewhere.

Charles Scott, a retired law-enforcement officer who now works in security, said he wasn’t at all concerned about his safety while shopping at Walmart after the shootings.

There were more than a dozen shootings in the city of Richmond over the course of four days recently — none of which were at Walmart, he said. 

So he didn’t think twice about walking into Walmart this week.

"You can walk out of your house and be popped," he said. 

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hpeterson@businessinsider.com (Hayley Peterson)

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