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News Brief: Hurricane Damage, British Election, Walmart Ammunition Sales

Sep 4, 2019
Originally published on September 4, 2019 9:02 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Hurricane Dorian is slowly moving on after devastating the Bahamas.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The storm leaves behind a question - how to help people in places that cannot be reached? Our colleague, Geoff Brumfiel, has posted satellite images showing much of Grand Bahama Island underwater. In the Abaco Islands, an airport is underwater and entire neighborhoods are flat.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis described what he saw during a flyover.

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HUBERT MINNIS: There were at least about 30 individuals who were trapped in this community and were waving yellow flags, sheets, shirts to bring attention to their survival.

KING: NPR's Jason Beaubien traveled to the Bahamas to bring us the latest. He's in the capital, Nassau. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

KING: OK. So what are you seeing where you are in Nassau?

BEAUBIEN: So things are not that bad here. I mean, this area did get hit. You know, out at the airport here, you still have got some planes out on the runway and these - and, like, the small planes that are sitting there in six inches of water. You know, some of the streets are still flooded. But the electricity is on here. For the Bahamas, this area in Nassau is OK. This is not what people are concerned about.

KING: People are concerned about the Abaco Islands. First responders, aid groups, they're actually having trouble reaching people there. What is their plan? What are the logistics of this?

BEAUBIEN: You know, right now, just people are trying to figure out how to actually get in there and try to figure out what is going on. And as you - you played a clip earlier from the prime minister, Minnis. He basically flew over last - yesterday in a plane just to try to get a sense of what's going on. And here's what he had to say.

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MINNIS: Parts of Abaco are decimated. There's severe flooding. There's severe damage to homes, businesses, other buildings and infrastructure.

BEAUBIEN: And he said that there, in Abaco, about 60% of some of the homes, he expects, are damaged. They were not even able to get to Grand Bahama. Basically, they're doing flyovers to try to figure out how they can get people in to do initial assessments on the ground. So it's sort of an aerial attempt, and it's not even getting at everything that's going on right now.

KING: I know you've been talking to people who were evacuated from Abaco. What have they been telling you? What have they learned?

BEAUBIEN: I mean, some of the people who are coming out are crying. Some of them are, like, hyper with joy. These are people who...

KING: Oh.

BEAUBIEN: ...Rode out the storm there. You know, people are saying that there's no water. They're saying that the houses are just completely destroyed. A lot of these are people who have seen hurricanes before. They're saying that the landscape is just stripped of all vegetation, just every tree has its leaves that have just been torn off of it.

And amidst this, there's no power. There's no cellphone communication. People are getting desperate because their roofs are ripped off and their food supplies got damaged or thrown all over the place. People are very desperate. And this is just in Abaco. Again, we still have not been able to hear or even talk to people who've been evacuated out of Grand Bahama...

KING: And...

BEAUBIEN: ...Because nobody has been. Yeah.

KING: And as you mentioned, much of Grand Bahama underwater. We've seen that in satellite images. So what are the biggest needs in the next few days?

BEAUBIEN: So in the next few days, the needs are really to figure out how to actually get in there and be - and help people, how to figure out how you can land, even where you can land, a helicopter. Both Grand Bahama and Abaco, the actual landing strips at the airports are underwater. So it's right now just trying to figure out how to make this relief operation happen.

KING: NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, thanks so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. What actually happened in Britain's Parliament yesterday?

INSKEEP: It's a little hard to follow. But in short, the brand-new prime minister lost a vote in Parliament. He may be on his way to losing another. It happened just as Prime Minister Boris Johnson was trying to speed the way to Brexit. He was pressing to leave the European Union by the end of October with or without a replacement deal for trade and immigration and more. Rebels in Johnson's own Conservative Party are moving to block him.

KING: Our own Frank Langfitt is on the line for us from London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So some really stunning images...

LANGFITT: Yeah (laughter).

KING: ...And voices coming out of that Parliament yesterday. What exactly happened?

LANGFITT: Well, basically what you had is a parliamentary rebellion against the prime minister, which one very rarely sees in this country. They voted to take control of the parliamentary agenda, which is normally in the hands of the prime minister. They won that vote easily. This is what it sounded like.

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JOHN BERCOW: Order. Order. The ayes to the right, 328. The nos to the left, 301.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Not a good start, Boris.

KING: Ooh.

LANGFITT: And so you heard that - not a good start, Boris - talking about Boris Johnson. He's only been in the job for a little more than 40 days, and he loses his first big vote in Parliament. So what's going to happen today is the House of Commons is going to vote to actually block him from leaving the European Union without a deal at the end of October. They are expected to succeed. Then it needs to go to the House of Lords.

And if that happens, Boris Johnson will have to go back to Brussels. He'll ask - have to ask for a new deal. And if he can't get some kind of new deal that he can get through the Parliament here, he's got to ask for yet another extension. It would be the third of Brexit in this country.

KING: How is Boris Johnson responding to this rebellion?

LANGFITT: Well, what he said last night is if the House of Commons passes this today and blocks him, he's going to ask for a general election on the 14 of October. That's a little more than two weeks before the Brexit deadline. Now, he's going to do it by - under what's called the Fixed-Term Parliament (ph) Act. That would require a two-thirds vote of Parliament.

And it's not sure, interestingly enough, that he'll get it, Noel. And that's because the opposition Labour Party does not trust him. They think that this is kind of a trick, that he's going to - they're going to get to vote for an election, and then he's going to try to kill off their bill and then crash the country out. So they said they only will vote for an election once they know that they blocked him from leaving with a no-deal Brexit.

KING: British politics, a little tricky here. But why is he calling for a general election? What's the significance of this?

LANGFITT: I think he has no choice. He lost his majority. He had a one-vote majority yesterday. And he actually had a defection in the middle of the House of Commons. Somebody got up and literally left the Conservative Party. And so what he's betting on - and this is - I mean, who knows what's going to happen - is that he has another election. He can get enough people in his party into Parliament. And then he'll actually have the power to either get through a no-deal Brexit or get through some kind of deal and finally get the country out of the European Union.

KING: OK. And the rebels who voted against him, he threw them out of the party last night, which just sounds insane. How is that going over?

LANGFITT: It's extraordinary. I mean, and it seemed largely as fairly ruthless. He got rid of two former chancellors of the exchequer. Those are treasury secretaries. Even Winston Churchill's grandson...

KING: Oh.

LANGFITT: ...Was thrown out of the party. So today, as is often the case, London is kind of spinning.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London, where it's spinning. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Noel.

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KING: A month after a shooter walked into one of its stores and killed 22 people, Walmart says the country's status quo on guns is, quote, "unacceptable."

INSKEEP: And at all Walmart locations, the company is ending sales of two types of ammunition. Walmart is also asking customers not to carry guns openly inside stores, and that request applies even to stores in states where it is legal to do so.

KING: We should note before we get started that Walmart is an NPR sponsor. NPR's Alina Selyukh has been reporting on this. She's in studio. Good morning, Alina.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So what kinds of ammunition is Walmart phasing out?

SELYUKH: So it's ammunition for handguns and certain short-barrel rifles. And the idea there is to phase out ammunition that can be used in the type of gun that often gets used in mass shootings. They're sometimes called military-style or assault-style. Now, that type of gun itself, Walmart stopped selling four years ago. The retailer has also long stopped selling handguns, except in Alaska, where now Walmart says it will stop selling handguns for good.

Also, as you pointed out, Walmart is asking shoppers to refrain from openly carrying guns into stores. There have been some cases of customers lawfully bringing guns in and causing evacuations and calls to the police because people are on edge and frightened. But the changes to ammunition sales is the biggest step here for Walmart. The company said its market share in ammunition is likely to go from 20% to about six to 9%.

KING: And when asked why they're doing this, what does Walmart say?

SELYUKH: Walmart had two shootings within one week. Twenty-two people died at a Walmart in El Paso, which is being treated as a domestic terrorism case. And just four days earlier, a former employee in Mississippi shot and killed two workers. In a memo on Tuesday, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said, after this, the company will never be the same.

We have seen this play out similarly at another company, Dick's Sporting Goods - big sports company. And there, they had discovered they had sold a gun to the shooter in Parkland, Fla., while following all the laws. The gun was not used in the shooting but prompted soul-searching from the CEO. And Dick's later stopped selling assault-style rifles, stopped selling guns to people under 21 and even eliminated guns from the stores where they didn't sell well.

So after the recent shootings, Walmart, for its part, faced a lot of calls in recent weeks to curb gun sales or stop selling guns altogether. There were protests and rallies both inside and outside the company. McMillon says he's been listening, and it is clear the status quo was, quote, "unacceptable," as you said. He says it's a complex situation lacking a clear solution, and they're trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk and hoping their shoppers understand.

KING: Walmart is the biggest retailer in the United States of America. Is this move by them likely to push other companies to do the same, or will other companies just scoop up the business?

SELYUKH: It's hard to say. Well, it depends on which companies you're thinking of. If you're thinking of companies that sell guns as well, we've seen a variety of responses there. And a lot of them do step up and say, well, you can buy stuff here. In terms of kind of the broader economy, this is a company that has partnerships and contracts with hundreds of other companies. So in that sense, it's certainly going to prompt more boardroom conversations about gun policy and how companies speak publicly about it.

For example, Kroger just yesterday, right after Walmart's news, joined Walmart and other companies in asking customers to not openly bring in their guns to stores. And most importantly, Walmart's MacMillon is now sending a powerful message but also lending his voice to the political debate, asking for stronger background checks and other things.

KING: Potential tipping point. NPR's Alina Selyukh. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "CHILL DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.