One of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun-control groups this week will begin pressuring the nation's largest supermarket operator to dissuade individuals from openly carrying weapons in its stores, following successful campaigns with other national retailers.
The bid to change Kroger Co.'s policy comes after Mr. Bloomberg's groups, including Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, have had mixed results in backing candidates in elections and trying to influence changes in government gun regulations. The groups have won public-relations victories when Target Corp. and Starbucks Corp. said they would ask customers to not bring guns into their outlets, although those companies said they would continue to follow state and local gun laws, just as Kroger said it does at the 2,640 properties it operates in 34 states.
"When a company like Kroger doesn't have a policy around guns, it seems to send a signal to gun extremists that they tacitly support or even endorse things like open carry," said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action.
Gun-rights advocates have pressed open-carry by legally carrying long arms such as rifles in public places to highlight restrictions on carrying handguns, arguing visible guns in public deter crime. State and local laws govern the right to carry guns in the open. Several states ban the open carrying of handguns, and some require a permit, while a number of states allow it.
A spokesman for Kroger, which also owns chains including Harris Teeter and Fred Meyer, said corporate policies abiding by state and local laws are sufficient to protect customers. "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," said Kroger spokesman Keith Dailey. "We know that our customers are passionate on both sides of this issue and we trust them to be responsible in our stores."
The Moms Demand Action playbook begins with a social-media swarm and then demonstrations outside local stores, often circulating photographs of gun-rights advocates carrying large rifles through and outside retail properties. In the Kroger campaign, the group plans to highlight gun incidents linked to the retailer's properties since 2012, though many of the altercations took place outside of the company's supermarkets.
The pushback from antigun groups has led some open-carry backers to alter their practices. C.J. Grisham, the president of Open Carry Texas, said his group no longer demonstrates at Target or at other establishments where they aren't invited.
Still, the antigun groups' success has been limited. While Target in July said it would "respectfully" ask customers to not bring guns into its outlets, the chain hasn't posted signs forbidding firearms in its stores or taken other public steps beyond posting its policy online. Spokeswoman Molly Snyder said Target continues to follow local gun laws.
"If someone is respectfully choosing to disagree with us, we're not going to ask them to leave because they are carrying a gun," Ms. Snyder said. "But if they are causing a disruption, we would address it."
Jim Hertel, a retail consultant at Illinois-based Willard Bishop, said Kroger isn't likely to make significant changes to its gun policy because it would risk alienating portions of its customer base.
"I suspect that they probably are looking at this and going, 'What did we do to deserve this?' " Mr. Hertel said. "They're thinking to themselves, 'We're just trying to sell food.' "
Write to Reid J. Epstein at email@example.com
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