July 2

Today, Target Corp. released a statement in which it asked its customers not to bring firearms into its stores. Here’s an excerpt:

As you’ve likely seen in the media, there has been a debate about whether guests in communities that permit “open carry” should be allowed to bring firearms into Target stores. Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law …

This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.

Gun advocates often speak of their cultural attachment to firearms, and what we have here is certainly a clash of cultures. Target would probably never have taken this step were it not for the efforts of Open Carry Texas, a group of gun owners who get a charge out of walking into a grocery store or a coffee shop with AR-15s slung over their shoulders so that they can see the terrified looks on people’s faces. Target’s request comes in the wake of similar moves from Chipotle and Starbucks, and in each case it followed the same pattern: Open-carry advocates brought their assault rifles into the stores, customers and staff freaked out, and the corporation decided to make a request of its customers to leave their guns at home.

It’s important to understand that there are lots of gun owners who think groups like Open Carry Texas are nuts, and even plenty of gun advocates who think they’re doing serious damage to the cause. But groups like theirs have performed a service by reminding us that just as there’s a culture of guns, and cultures where guns are plentiful, there are also tens of millions of Americans for whom an absence of guns is a cultural value. It’s part of how they define places, whether it’s their communities or the stores they shop in, as safe and pleasant. People who grew up around a lot of guns may not blink an eye when they go to the hardware store and see a pistol peeking out of some dude’s sweatpants, but many people find that a troubling sight. We’re not all going to share the same culture, but being an honorable member of society means being aware of how some parts of your particular culture may make other people uncomfortable or afraid, and trying to act respectfully in response.

Despite what some extreme gun advocates believe, no right is unlimited, whether it’s your right to own a gun or your right to practice your religion or your right to freedom of speech. But beyond the legal limits, there are also the limits we all respect in order to have a society where we can get along despite our differences. My neighbor has a First Amendment right to write pornographic “Hunger Games” fan fiction, but if he hands his manuscripts to my kids he’s just being a creepy dirtbag, First Amendment or not.

And depending on the laws of your state, you may have a legal right to take your rifle down to the Piggly Wiggly. But that doesn’t mean that doing so doesn’t make you a jerk.