Group petitions Harris Teeter to ban openly carried guns in stores

Members of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action delivered more than 72,000 petitions to Harris Teeter’s Matthews headquarters Thursday, asking the company to ban openly carried guns in its stores.

The group has been asking Cincinnati-based Kroger, which bought Harris Teeter in January, to stop customers from carrying guns openly in its stores, even in jurisdictions where “open carry” is legal. They’re encouraging customers to shop at retailers that ban openly carried guns, such as Whole Foods, instead of Kroger-owned stores.

“You don’t have to have training or a permit to open carry in stores,” said Christy Clark, a Huntersville mother and a leader with Moms Demand Action.

She and other supporters hauled cardboard boxes of petitions into Harris Teeter’s Crestdale Road headquarters.

Harris Teeter said it doesn’t plan to change its policies, which allow open carry in states where it’s legal. In North Carolina, gun owners can openly carry firearms in most public places. A permit is required to carry a concealed gun.

“We have and will continue to adhere to the firearms and concealed handgun laws as outlined by the states in which we do business,” said spokeswoman Danna Jones, in an email. “We believe this issue is best handled by lawmakers, not retailers.”

Jones said the company’s policy was the same before its acquisition by Kroger. The grocery conglomerate also has a policy of allowing openly carried guns in places where it is legal. Harris Teeter operates about 200 stores in eight states, though most of them are in North Carolina.

“Our long-standing policy on this issue is to follow state and local laws and to ask customers to be respectful of others while shopping,” reads Kroger’s official policy. “We know that our customers are passionate on both sides of this issue and we trust them to be responsible in our stores.”

Clark said that retailers ban other practices that are legal under state law, such as skateboarding and not wearing shoes.

“If you can ban those things, why can’t you ban guns?” she asked.

Kroger is the second-largest grocer in the U.S., operating under a dozen other banners as well as Kroger and its Harris Teeter subsidiary.

Gun control advocates have been targeting national retailers. They’ve claimed some successes: In July, after lobbying from Moms Demand Action, Minneapolis-based Target said it would “respectfully request” that people not openly carry guns in 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,” interim CEO John Mulligan said at the time.

The movement has been fueled by social media, with petitions starting on Facebook.

Retailers must walk a fine line: Some customers might support a ban on openly carried guns, others might not. Many Kroger locations are in politically conservative areas that typically support open-carry regulations.

And firearms advocates have organized events of their own, wearing pistols and assault rifles on trips to retailers such as Starbucks. After one such event last year, the coffee company asked people to stop bringing their guns to stores unless they are law enforcement officers, but it stopped short of an outright ban.