Target goes gun-free, becoming biggest US retailer asking customers to disarm

Moms Demand Action has launched online petitions against corporations after members of open-carry groups brought loaded assault-style firearms into stores. In the case of Target, 400,000 signatures were collected.

The decision by Target, one of America’s largest retailers, to ask its customers to please not carry firearms to its stores anymore marks another surprising victory for gun control groups, which have rallied for attention and impact after the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre.

Moms Demand Action, a part of the Everytown for Gun Safety consortium, which is funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now has six notches in its belt after targeting major corporations with online petitions and protests. In the case of Target, 400,000 signatures were collected. Chili’s, Starbucks, Chipotle, Sonic, and Jack in the Box have all responded to petitions by specifically asking customers to shop and/or eat unarmed.

Target is by far the biggest retailer to date to concede to the demands of Moms Demand Action. Target’s competitor Wal-Mart is the country’s largest firearms seller and has noted that it doesn’t plan to make any policy changes on gun carry.

The petitions have come in response to demonstrations by so-called open-carry groups where members bring loaded assault-style firearms into stores. Those tactics have sparked a rare public backlash against public gun carry and introspection among gun owners in a country where states recently have, on the whole, pushed laws strengthening gun and self-defense rights.

To be sure, gun rights groups point out that some recent corporate policy changes are meaningless since they don’t actually ban guns, but simply request nicely that customers don’t bring them. But after the pressure on corporations like Starbucks and now Target to change their policy on guns, it’s clear that what Moms Demand Action calls its “common-sense” approach on the Second Amendment is winning converts, and at least shifting the weight slightly on the long-running tug of war between pro-gun lobbyists like the National Rifle Association and gun control and antiviolence organizations.

“Moms everywhere were horrified to see images of people carrying loaded assault rifles down the same aisles where we shop for diapers and toys,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, after Target’s announcement Wednesday. “... Target recognized that moms are a powerful customer base and political force – and you can respect the 2nd Amendment and the safety of customers at the same time."

The open-carry demonstrations and ensuing petitions have been discomfiting for US corporations, which have in the past mostly allowed local ordinances to dictate whether customers could bring guns to their stores. Target, especially, is in a tough spot after alienating some of its customer base with its handling of a massive data breach that took place around Thanksgiving last year.

Coming out with an antigun policy is a potentially risky move that could alienate large swaths of the buying public. But in the end, Target could have been more worried about the effects of a month-long #OffTarget social media campaign, urging mothers to shop at other stores until Target changed its policy. The retailer’s stock price rose slightly Wednesday on the news.

“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,” Target interim CEO John Mulligan said on the company blog. “[S]tarting today we will … respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law.”

Target has 1,700 stores in the United States and made about $70 billion in revenue last year. It doesn’t sell firearms.

The NRA, in a blog post in May, chastised open-carry demonstrations as “weird” and ultimately damaging to gun rights. But chief NRA lobbyist Chris Cox later walked back those comments, saying that calling open-carry protests “weird or somehow not normal was a mistake.”

After Target’s announcement, at least some gun owners acknowledged that the move suggests gun control groups are winning this battle.

“They have been generating outrage and delivering it to companies who will listen. We have been sitting on blogs complaining about [Open Carry Texas], open carry, the state of Texas, and anything else we can think of to make ourselves feel superior while the antis were – quite effectively – lobbying for a policy change,” writes “Dave,” a commenter on the well-read “Shall Not Be Questioned” blog. “Their strategy was superior. [T]hat’s a bitter pill, but the fact is the other side beat us at a game we have traditionally owned.”

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