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Target asks customers to leave guns at home

Target is "respectfully" requesting gun-owners not to bring firearms into its stores, following a series of open-carry demonstrations that distressed some customers.

Interim CEO John Mulligan said Wednesday that the Minneapolis-based retailer tries "to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting." But the open display of firearms inside its stores "creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create," Mulligan wrote on Target’s corporate 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 social media sites. As those pictures circulated nationwide, others grew alarmed by the weaponry openly displayed in the toy aisle or the check-out counter.

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

"This morning, Target announced that it heard our concerns and will no longer allow firearms inside stores," the Moms Demand Action group said in a statement. "This huge change made by one of our country’s largest and leading retailers 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 guns on their property, including Chipotle, Sonic, Chili’s, Jack in the Box and Starbucks.

Target stopped short of banning guns in its stores. Mulligan wrote only, "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 the blog post, Mulligan called the topic "a complex issue," and the flood of instant reaction to Mulligan’s statement showed how volatile the topic remains.

"This is just to shut up the anti gunners," one man posted in the comment section on the Target blog. "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?"

The Minnesota group "Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance" scolded Target Wednesday and pointed a finger at 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 that prohibited open-carry of handguns, but allowed open-carry of long guns. Open-carry advocates in other states began to pose with weapons inside Target stores.

But 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."