(Adds details, NRA controversy)
By Lisa Maria Garza
DALLAS, July 2 (Reuters) - U.S. retailer Target on Wednesday asked shoppers not to bring guns to its stores after protests against a gun-rights campaign in Texas where customers brandished firearms in store aisles.
"Starting today we will ... respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target - even in communities where it is permitted by law," Target chief executive John Mulligan said in a posting on its website.
"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," said Mulligan.
Groups advocating the unlicensed, open carrying of handguns have taken rifles and shotguns to restaurants and retailers mostly in Texas to draw attention to their cause, pointing to Texas laws that permit their actions.
An advocacy group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America waged a social media campaign to boycott Target after photos circulated of open carry group members in Texas walking through stores with rifles and shotguns over their shoulders.
"Moms everywhere were horrified to see images of people carrying loaded assault rifles down the same aisles where we shop for diapers and toys," founder Shannon Watts said in a statement.
Open Carry Tarrant County, a gun rights group in the Fort Worth area behind campaigns that have drawn some of the most attention, said on Wednesday members will continue to exercise their right to carry weapons in public.
The group has parted ways with Open Carry Texas after disagreeing with the statewide group's call to members to stop carrying long guns in restaurants.
"They just want to shut up the cry babies who support more victims for criminals. The Unarmed!," Open Carry Tarrant County group said on a Facebook posting.
The National Rifle Association has weighed in on the debate, saying in a statement about a month ago that these sorts of open-carry tactics were "foolish," "counterproductive" and "downright scary".
The powerful gun lobby group was severely criticized by open carry activists for its position and a few days later, it backed away, saying the statement was a mistake made by a staff member who had a poor choice of words, adding it supported open carry. .
A number of national eateries, including Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc, Sonic Drive-In, Chili's Grill & Bar and Jack in the Box Inc have also asked patrons to keep their firearms at home.
Top retailer Wal-Mart said it abides by the laws regarding open carry based on where its outlets are located.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jim Loney and Cynthia Osterman)