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Target bars customers who are carrying guns

July 14, 2014 

  • In summary

    Target officials apparently conclude that asking customers to leave their guns at home is a good move in terms of public safety.

The decision by retailing giant Target to ask customers to leave their guns at home makes a significant statement. It indicates that Target officials are more concerned about losing customers who don’t want to shop next to people toting guns than they are about the ire of gun-rights activists.

On July 2, Target officially asked customers not to bring firearms into its stores.

“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 acting CEO, explained in a statement.

Target officials stressed that this amounts to a request, not a ban. Mulligan said that Target’s policy always has been to follow local laws, which it will continue to do, but that it “respectfully requests” that people not bring firearms to stores even in communities where it is permitted by law.

Target is one of a number of stores that have been singled out by gun activists to test the limits of the right to openly bear arms. Some states with “open carry” laws designate some places where guns can’t be carried, such as schools, places that serve alcohol, churches, state government buildings.

But the exceptions are few unless property owners ask people to put their guns away. Many employers, retailers and other establishments post signs prohibiting people from bringing guns onto their premises.

But some gun owners have asserted their rights by openly carrying guns into stores and other venues. Some have been armed not only with pistols but also long guns, including assault-style rifles.

But while gun owners represent a powerful political base, so do customers concerned about safety. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun-control advocacy group formed after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., gathered nearly 400,000 signatures on a petition asking Target to prohibit customers from openly carrying guns. In addition to Target, retailers such as Chipotle, Starbucks, Facebook, Jack in the Box, Sonic and Chili’s also have asked customers not to come onto their property with guns.

Gun activists no doubt will offer a familiar retort: If violence breaks out in one of these stores, wouldn’t customers appreciate having someone with a gun to help protect them?

But the counter-argument strikes us as more plausible: Bringing guns into stores where families shop with children invites accidents. It seems far more likely that one of the guns would go off accidentally and hurt someone than that an armed customer would use it to subdue a crazed gunman.

If you’re trying to gauge the best way to keep your customers safe, barring guns seems like the best bet. That apparently is what Target concluded.

As one gun-rights organization noted, Target’s policy “will haven no practical impact” on the legal right to carry arms in public. Maybe not, but paying customers can be a powerful voice, and if retailers decide that people carrying guns in their stores are bad for business, that could help shift the tenor of the discussion about gun rights.

The courts have clearly established that citizens have a right to bear arms. But the citizenry also have the right to ensure that they do so responsibly.

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