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By Kavita Kumar, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

MINNEAPOLIS — Target Corp. on Wednesday took a stand against customers who 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, said in a statement.

The matter became a surprising controversy for the Minneapolis-based retailer in recent months when activist gun owners in Texas and other states chose the company’s stores to demonstrate their belief in the right to openly bear arms.

Texas and other “open carry” states allow people to carry guns unless directed by owners of private property to put them away. Many employers, retailers and other establishments post signs in those states prohibiting people from bringing guns onto their premises.

While gun-rights activists chose Target as a venue to demonstrate their rights, other groups began to express concern about the presence of guns in its stores, particularly because they are frequented by families with small children. At Target’s annual meeting in Dallas, a small group of mothers staged a small demonstration asking Target executives to join other retailers in banning weapons from its stores.

In his statement, posted on the company’s blog, Mulligan said, “Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target, even in communities where it is permitted by law.”

Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, said the retailer will not post signs at its stores asking people not to bring guns inside. “It is not a ban,” she said. “There is no prohibition.”

She said the company decided to make this statement after hearing from people on all sides of this issue.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun-control advocacy group formed after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., pressured Target for the last month to prohibit customers from openly carrying guns and gathered nearly 400,000 signatures on a petition asking for the same. Its members had also launched a social media campaign about the issue and posted pictures online of shoppers with receipts from other retailers.

“Moms everywhere were horrified to see images of people carrying loaded assault rifles down the same aisles where we shop for diapers and toys,” Shannon Watts, the group’s founder, said in a statement. “Like Chipotle, Starbucks, Facebook, Jack in the Box, Sonic, and Chili’s, Target recognized that moms are a powerful customer base and political force, and you can respect the 2nd Amendment and the safety of customers at the same time.”

Some gun rights activists emphasized though that Target is not banning guns.

The “policy will have no practical impact,” Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, a Minnesota group, said in a statement. It also said the mom’s group gets financial backing from Michael Bloomberg, the media billionaire and former New York mayor who campaigned for stiffer gun laws and started a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“Target is trying to have it both ways,” Joseph Olson, the group’s founder, said in the 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.”

It added that gun owners and permit holders will have to decide whether to keep shopping at Target.

AFP Photo / Justin Sullivan

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