Levi’s jeans might remind you of cowboys — that is, after all, one of the company’s signature cuts of denim — but you won’t likely find anyone with a six-shooter in one of the company’s stores.
Levi Strauss & Co chief executive Chip Bergh posted an open letter to LinkedIn on Wednesday requesting that jeans shoppers not carry guns, even with a permit, into any Levi’s location.
It should be noted that, although some outlets reported this as a ban on guns in Levi’s stores, it is not. In his note, Bergh specifically stated it is a “a request not a mandate.”
Stating that he has “tremendous responsibility to share our position on the issue, now, at a time when clarity is paramount,” Bergh wrote that “providing a safe environment to work and shop is a top priority for us at Levi Strauss & Co. That imperative is quickly challenged, however, when a weapon is carried into one of our stores.”
He stated that a customer recently carried a firearm into one of its stores, where it inadvertently fired, injuring its carrier. He did not specify in which location this occurred.
The letter continued:
So, while we understand the heartfelt and strongly-held opinions on both sides of the gun debate, it is with the safety and security of our employees and customers in mind that we respectfully ask people not to bring firearms into our stores, offices or facilities, even in states where it’s permitted by law. Of course, authorized members of law enforcement are an exception.
In particular, Bergh noted that the company has stores in Paris, Nice and Orlando, along with European headquarters in Brussels. All of these cities have recently been affected by mass attacks that left many dead.
In the cases of Orlando, Paris and Brussels, firearms were used to compound the carnage. In June, for example, a man in Orlando killed 49 people with an assault-style rifle in what ranked as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
“I’ve thought more about safety in the past year than in the previous three decades of my career because of how ‘close to home’ so many incidents with guns have come to impacting people working for this company,” Bergh wrote.
Bergh stated that “trying to enforce a ban could potentially undermine the purpose of the ban itself: safety,” which is why he called it a “request not a mandate.”
Continued Bergh, “We sincerely hope responsible gun owners will respect our position.”
The letter concluded:
It boils down to this: you shouldn’t have to be concerned about your safety while shopping for clothes or trying on a pair of jeans. Simply put, firearms don’t belong in either of those settings. In the end, I believe we have an obligation to our employees and customers to ensure a safe environment and keeping firearms out of our stores and offices will get us one step closer to achieving that reality.
The note was posted as 2016 wraps up en route to surpass last year’s record number of checks on prospective gun buyers by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which Fortune called “a good proxy for gun sales.” According to the FBI, there have been 22,206,233 background checks this year through October, compared to a total of 23,141,970 for all of 2015.
Levi’s isn’t the first large company to request its customers leave their firearms at home before coming to shop. Previously, companies such as Whataburger, Chipotle and Panera have all made similar requests to its customers.
Most notable, though, was Starbucks. Immediately after the popular coffee company made that request in 2013, gun rights advocates began threatening to boycott its brew. For this reason, Bergh told Fortune he specifically sought counsel from Starbucks before publishing his own request. His conclusion was that “most boycott threats around this topic ultimately blow over.”
Still, Bergh said he knows the brand could lose some customers, but he sought to be respectful to all anyhow.
“I’m not naive enough to expect that nothing will come of this. We are standing up for something we think is right,” he told Fortune. “The way to do this is with respect for gun owners.”
That hasn’t stopped many customers, offering various grievances, from voicing their anger on Twitter.
Several users made references to masculinity to insult the brand.
Many questioned if Bergh’s request would make Levi’s stores safer or more dangerous.
Several threatened to boycott the store.
At least one user said he now specifically plans to enter a Levi’s location with a gun.
In the end, Bergh said, it’s about safety, not politics.
“It’s not an anti-Second Amendment thing,” Bergh told Fortune. “You don’t need a gun to try on a pair of jeans.”
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