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Tina Casey headshot

With New Gun Ban, Kroger Joins the Shopper Safety Movement

By Tina Casey

As if brick-and-mortar retailers didn’t have enough to worry about from the powerful e-commerce trend, the issue of shopper safety could also drive more people to get their goods online instead of walking into a store. Walmart seems to have recognized the danger with its latest shift in gun policy, and now retail giant Kroger has joined the mix.

State gun laws are not helping

Shopper safety is not an option. It is a matter of bottom line survival.

Businesses do in fact have the right to ban guns on their property. Nevertheless, few have been willing to take that step.

State and federal laws do not provide retailers with social cover for enforcing gun bans their property in all but a handful of U.S. states. The burden is fully on the stores.

Out of the 50 states, only five have laws on the books that prohibit open carry for both handguns and long guns, except under specified circumstances. Three others prohibit open carry for handguns only or long guns only, also with certain exceptions.

Although the odds of being killed by a gun in a retail store are slim, last month the Cincinnati Enquirer took a deep dive into the issue of guns at businesses and came up with some alarming numbers from the FBI, including the fact that almost half of mass shootings occur in a business setting.

Long before Kroger, Starbucks took the lead on shopper safety

Clearly there is a need for support from state lawmakers. That being unavailable, however, businesses have been begging for cooperation from gun owners.

Back in 2013 Starbucks, for example, issued a “respectful request” for customers to refrain from openly carrying guns in its stores, emphasizing that “this is a request and not an outright ban.”

In November 2016 Levi-Strauss CEO Chip Bergh also politely asked customers to refrain from bringing guns into the company’s retail stores, using the same “we respectfully ask” approach.

Even the massacre of 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas was not enough to change the terms of the conversation. Earlier this week, Walmart used the same “respectfully request” language to announce that it will discourage customers from open carry in its stores.

Additionally, Walmart put its managers on the spot by giving them discretion on how to deal with customers who carry openly in their stores. That includes letting the customer -- and their gun -- stay in the store.

Changing the conversation on shopper safety -- or not

A turning point may have been reached this week when the leading grocery giant Kroger announced that it is also requesting no open carry, even though none of its stores have been involved in a mass shooting within the most recent media cycles.

On the surface, it would appear that nothing has changed. As reported by CNN, Kroger is simply “respectfully asking” customers to refrain from open carry.

That’s despite years of pressure from the organization Everytown for Gun Safety and a lawsuit filed by the widow of a shooting victim in a Kroger location. The litigation cites 23 shootings in Kroger stores since 2012, with only two others taking place over the previous 21 years.

Signs of a stronger lobby for shopper safety

One thing has changed, though. CNN also notes that as with Walmart, Kroger is publicly allying itself with grassroots gun safety advocates, stating that “we recognize the growing chorus of Americans who are no longer comfortable with the status quo and who are advocating for concrete and common sense gun reforms."

In other words, the nation’s top retailers are continuing to toss the gun safety ball right back where it belongs: in the hands of the nation’s lawmakers.

Corporations can help move the needle on gun safety, but in the end, the responsibility for a national policy on gun safety belongs to those who hold the reins of legislative power in Washington, D.C.

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Image credit: Virginia Retail/Flickr

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey