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Target says guns not welcome, but stops short of ban

MINNEAPOLIS -- Target is “respectfully” requesting gun-owners not to bring firearms into its stores after a series of open-carry demonstrations alarmed some customers.

The open display of firearms in its stores “creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create,” Interim CEO John Mulligan said Wednesday on the Minneapolis-based retailer’s company blog.

In Texas and several other states, open-carry gun enthusiasts and demonstrators have walked around Target stores carrying long guns, had their photos taken with the weapons, then posted the photos on the Internet. As those pictures circulated nationwide, critics grew alarmed by what they saw in the toy aisle or the frozen-food section.

The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America led social-media pressure and protests, including a petition drive, to get Target to change its policy. Nearly 400,000 people signed petitions, even as open-carry advocates urged Target not to bend.

“This morning, Target announced that it heard our concerns,” the Moms Demand Action group said in a statement, adding that the move is “proof that when women and mothers collectively use our voices and votes, we will change the culture of gun violence in America.”

Earlier, open-carry demonstrations led other national chains to ban or discourage visible guns on their property, including Chipotle, Sonic, Chili’s, Jack in the Box and Starbucks.

Still, Target stopped short of banning guns in its stores. Mulligan wrote, “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 not a change in policy,” Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said in an email to the Pioneer Press. “Rather, what we are communicating today is a request and not a prohibition.” Snyder added that Target has no plans to further comment on the firearm issue, “beyond the messages we are sharing today.”

In his blog post, Mulligan called the topic “a complex issue,” and the flood of instant reaction to showed how volatile it remains.

In the comment section on the Target blog, one man wrote, “Going back to Target with my gun today and tomorrow and whatever day I want.”

Replied another commenter, “I just don’t understand what you folks find so scary about a Target. Isn’t it most(ly) full of Moms/kids? Why is every place so scary to you that you must be armed?”

Jon Austin, a Minneapolis crisis-communications specialist, notes the tough spot that Target was in, as it stood in the crosshairs of a passionate debate it didn’t expect and took flak from both camps.

“I’m going to assume that nobody in Target thought, ‘Hey, we should jump into the gun control debate’,” Austin said. “However, for legitimate business reasons, or legitimate reasons for the security of the guest, they felt they had to take a stand.”

Austin added, “I hope they did it with the realization that they’re touching one of the third rails of American politics, and nobody comes away from that without a tingling sensation in their arms.”

The Minnesota group “Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance” scolded Target on Wednesday and pointed a finger at New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who is financing much of the Moms Demand group.

“Target is trying to have it both ways,” the gun group’s chairman, Joseph E. Olson, said in a statement. “They want to stop Bloomberg’s social media attacks, but they don’t want to alienate millions of Target customers who legally carry, so they call it a ‘request’ — one that carries no enforcement.”

Yet even among gun enthusiasts, the open-carry protests have been controversial.

In Texas, the open-carry demonstrations were partly designed as a tactic to change state laws there that prohibited open-carry of handguns, but allowed open-carry of long guns. Open-carry advocates in other states also began to pose with weapons inside Target stores.

Even the National Rifle Association initially condemned such demonstrations as “downright weird,” not to mention counterproductive.

After open-carry groups howled, the NRA backtracked with a new statement: “Our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.