Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen told The Enquirer Thursday he believes most gun owners will respect the retailer’s request to not openly carry guns in stores.
Asked if making a request would do most of the work getting Kroger the result it wanted, he replied: “The feedback says it does.”
Following a wave of mass shootings across the country, Kroger changed its gun policy. The request of shoppers to not carry guns in the open applies even in states like Ohio and Kentucky where it’s legal.
“This is something we’ve talked about for some time – it’s something our customers told us would make them feel safer if we did it,” McMullen told The Enquirer. “We’re really just listening to our customers.”
McMullen said Kroger is following the example of Starbucks and other retailers that in recent years have made similar requests of customers and agreed it effectively functions as a ban on open carry without being too heavy-handed.
“We’re asking customers rather than a flat out ban,” McMullen said.
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Pressed on why not ban open carry or for that matter the carrying of concealed weapons, McMullen replied:
“How would we enforce it?” McMullen said. “How would we know (referring specifically to shoppers with concealed weapons).”
McMullen’s comments follow weeks of silence by the company on gun violence that has swept the country, including at Kroger stores. The retailer did not respond to The Enquirer in August when it wrote about Kroger and other stores’ gun policies in the aftermath of back-to-back shootings that killed a combined 31 people at an El Paso Walmart and a downtown Dayton entertainment district.
Kroger officials say they’re working out the details of how to enact their new gun policy and looking at “best practices” by other retailers.
They have not said how they will respond to customers who ignore Kroger’s request not to openly carry a firearm. They have also not figured out what a customer should do if they see another shopper with a gun.
The Enquirer reported that retailers generally allow shoppers to bring weapons despite the fact that nearly half of mass shootings (45.6%) occur in business settings, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Kroger officials said they didn’t want to insert themselves into the national gun debate then when feelings were still raw.
But the mass shootings have continued.
McMullen, who was at Music Hall in Over-The-Rhine Thursday being honored by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati, did not offer a personal opinion on guns or address a lawsuit against Kroger by the family of victims at a mass shooting at a Louisville Kroger last fall.
Kroger’s previous policy was to defer to local and state laws – a legal stance that was criticized as a cop-out by gun-control advocates because those same laws ultimately leave it up to business and property owners to set their own rules.
That policy was challenged in a lawsuit by the widow of a man shot to death in a Louisville Kroger supermarket, claiming the retailer didn’t do enough to prevent his murder.
The lawsuit against Kroger also brought to light a multitude of largely ignored victims from more than two dozen shootings – most in the last seven years.
Kroger’s Tuesday announcement came hours after Walmart made the same request of its customers.
Gun-control advocates have in recent years targeted private businesses to change their firearms policies amid Congressional deadlock on the issue in Washington, D.C.
Now, as of this week, the nation’s – and the world’s – largest (Walmart) and third-largest (Kroger) retailers have now moved to restrict guns.
Target, Chipotle and Starbucks are other noteworthy retailers that restricted the open-carry of guns, according to advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Those retailers did not return several messages from The Enquirer last month to discuss their gun policy.
Starbucks was among the first retailers to request customers not openly carry in 2013:
Moms Demand Action, which has lobbied Kroger to change its gun policy on and off since 2014, hailed the retailer for the change. The nonprofit advocacy group is part of the Michael Bloomberg-backed umbrella group Everytown For Gun Safety. It noticeably labelled Kroger’s request a “prohibition.”
“The nation’s two largest retailers took major steps to keep Americans safe when we’re shopping,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “We thank Kroger for listening to Moms Demand Action volunteers — and everyday Americans across the country — who are sick and tired of fearing for their lives when they turn down the aisle in the grocery store and see a man with a rifle strapped to his back. We’re grateful to business leaders for protecting their customers.”
Gun advocates, such as the National Rifle Association, denounced retailers for moving against open carry.
“Shame on Kroger for infringing on their customers’ rights simply to virtue signal and appease gun control extremists who know nothing about guns, crime, or safety,” said Dean Rieck, executive director of Ohio’s Buckeye Firearms Association.
“Kroger executives think that the mere sight of a firearm poses a threat, even if it’s being carried by a law-abiding person,” he continued. “If anything, this makes customers less safe because it will simply result in fewer customers in Kroger stores who are able to defend themselves should an actual criminal choose to harm people.”
Meanwhile, a new survey of 1,000 adults conducted by New York-based Edelman Intelligence found a majority (74%) of U.S. adults “would feel more favorably toward a company whose CEO backs tougher background checks for gun purchases,” according to Axios.
The survey found that more than 70% of respondents supported companies that backed gun safety laws or funded educational programs to promote gun safety. But only 52% of respondents said they’d support a retailer that didn’t allow guns into stores.
The survey concluded: “Executives have the public’s permission to use their platforms to draw visibility to the issue and support gun safety laws.”
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