First there was #BurritosNotBullets and then #JackedUp. Now, with the hashtag, #GroceriesNotGuns, the fight for what gun control advocacy groups call “gun sense” is back on, and taking aim at yet another big business.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is asking Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket retailer, to ban the open carry of guns in its stores, citing “intimidating” recent open carry demonstrations as well as over a dozen shootings at stores in Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and other states.
“How as a mother, am I supposed to know if the person with a loaded AR-15 is a gun extremist trying to make a political statement or if I should duck and cover? Kroger shouldn’t leave that ambiguous,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told The Daily Beast.
Previous petitions have been aimed at companies like Chipotle, Jack in the Box, Starbucks, and Facebook. Their most recent success was with Target stores in July, when the mega-retailer relented after one month of a sustained boycott by moms who posted receipts from their shopping trips at non-Target stores with the hashtag, #OffTarget.
“Moms are on social media,” Watts said. “It’s where our community is. We can make images of open carry go viral, we can put pressure on through Twitter. We can galvanize online as well as offline. Moms are serious about this.”
The unrelenting focus on corporations to take a stand on guns has brought a new attention to the open carry debate that has even the country’s most powerful gun lobby bristling. The argument for open carry goes that the ubiquity of guns will normalize them in the public eye. But the majority of gun owners, including many in the open carry movement, say that holding events while wearing long guns in local restaurants and stores has only alienated the general public, and forced the hands of businesses that had quietly allowed the lawful carry of guns.
Open Carry Texas, the largest group of its kind in the Lone Star State, no longer brings rifles into restaurants and stores, after a strong chiding from the NRA in June, in the form of an essay that called the tactic “downright weird” and noted that, “it makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.” The statement has since been removed.
The open carry of firearms in Kroger stores has been a hot topic in the firearms community for several years now. In past flare-ups—documented on open carry forums—the grocery chain has said that it will comply with state laws.
These laws governing where and how different guns can be carried in public vary by city and state. Sixteen states currently expressly permit the open carry of firearms—with restrictions—by state statute according to the National Council on State Legislatures. And 28 more permit open carry only because there is no law expressly forbidding it, making 44 states in total where a gun owner is free to carry a firearm without concealment. In 29 of these states, no permit or training or is required.
Despite the recent setbacks, some open-carry supporters say the Moms’ national campaign and the subsequent statements from businesses mean little in terms of actual store policy.
“Chipotle, I was [carrying openly] in there just the other day. I was in Starbucks the other day. I was in Target multiple times – they aren’t banning guns at all,” Kory Watkins, the rifle-toting Libertarian spokesman for Texas’s Open Carry Tarrant County group, told The Daily Beast. Watkins’ photograph is often used by Moms Demand Action to demonstrate the problem of firearms in family stores (including the current Kroger petition).
Watkins buys most of his food at Kroger and says unless the grocer outright bans guns, posting signs and all, he’ll continue to shop there—but leaving his rifle at home isn’t an option. “I’m obligated to protect my family. I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it,” he said.
Kroger’s current corporate policy on guns reads: “The safety of our customers and associates is one of our most important company values. Millions of customers are present in our busy grocery stores every day and we don't want to put our associates in a position of having to confront a customer who is legally carrying a gun. That is why our long-standing policy on this issue is to follow state and local laws and to ask customers to be respectful of others while shopping. We know that our customers are passionate on both sides of this issue and we trust them to be responsible in our stores.”