Citing ‘family-friendly’ environment, Target asks customers to leave their guns at home

Target said Wednesday that it would “respectfully request” that its customers no longer carry firearms inside its stores, after facing mounting pressure from gun-control activists who put the chain in the crosshairs of a national debate about “open carry” laws.

The change will apply to both concealed and unconcealed guns in all of the Minneapolis-based retailer’s nearly 1,800 U.S. stores, the company confirmed.

“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,” John Mulligan, the company’s interim chief executive, said in a memo posted on Target’s Web site.

Target is the latest retail giant to be drawn into the gun-control debate. Last September, Starbucks asked its patrons to leave their guns at home, and Chipotle, Jack in the Box, Sonic Drive-In, and Chili’s Grill & Bar all made similar requests in May. Facebook and Instagram also recently announced plans to tighten their policies governing images and posts selling firearms.

Target found itself drawn into the fray this spring when a Texas gun rights group posted photos online of some of its members openly carrying long guns in Target stores.

The photos prompted a rebuke from the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, which called the demonstrations “downright weird” in a statement on its Web site. A few days later, NRA’s top lobbyist backtracked on that criticism, saying it had come from an unauthorized staffer.

The photos spurred a month-long counter-campaign from the gun-control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which took to social media and launched petitions to urge Target to prohibit customers from carrying guns in its stores. The group has attributed other retailers’ similar moves to its previous campaigns.

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in an interview that she was “elated” by Target’s decision and said she hopes the changes will spur lawmakers to act on gun-control legislation.

“We hope that this win with Target signals our complete dissatisfaction with Congress’s inaction on this issue and the fact that moms really are revved up on this issue — and they will see that” in the November midterm elections, Watts said.

Watts said her group has had several phone conversations with members of Target’s senior management team in recent weeks about the issue, though she had not heard from the company for about two weeks prior to Wednesday’s announcement.

Watts said that two large companies — a retailer and a restaurant — have reached out to her group about taking a stance on the issue, saying they wanted to avoid being the target of one of Moms Demand Action’s public relations campaigns.

Gun rights groups were disappointed by Target’s announcement.

John Pierce, co-founder of the gun-rights group OpenCarry.org, said he would encourage gun owners to comply with Target’s request.

Many gun owners will either stop shopping at Target or continue carrying their weapons in a concealed fashion in the company’s stores, he said.

Pierce expressed disappointment in Target’s decision, though he still managed to find a silver lining in the fact that Target did not go as far as it could have with its request.

“We’re very heartened by the fact that Target – even given that amount of pressure – did not actually ban [carriers of firearms],” said John Pierce, whose organization advocates specifically for the open carry of properly holstered handguns. Target spokeswoman Molly Synder confirmed that Target’s new stance is a position, not a policy.

It remains unclear how Target will enforce its new policy, particularly regarding concealed firearms.

Target will not post signs outside of stores and does not have any further plans to advertise its position on the issue, said spokeswoman Molly Synder. When asked what Target would do if a customer brought a gun into one of its stores, Synder said in an e-mail that the chain “will continue to follow all local and state laws.”

Carrying a concealed firearm is legal with some restrictions in all 50 states. Most states allow some unconcealed firearms to be carried in public in certain cases.

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