Kroger and Walmart Tuesday asked customers to stop openly carrying guns in stores, but both will still allow concealed permit holders to discretely bear their firearms in Ohio and other states that allow it.
The area’s two largest grocery providers made the decision to “respectfully” request shoppers not visibly carry firearms in stores where open carry is legal following a string of shootings, including one in Dayton’s Oregon District a month ago that left nine dead and nearly 30 injured.
Hours earlier a gunman in El Paso, Texas, opened fire in a store killing 22 and injuring dozens more. A few days before that, two associates were killed by another employee in Southaven, Miss. Over Labor Day weekend a gunman driving through Oddessa and Midland, Texas, killed seven people before police shot and killed him.
Walgreens followed the retailers’ example Thursday, announcing it would no longer welcome open carriers in stores.
“There have been multiple incidents since El Paso where individuals attempting to make a statement and test our response have entered our stores carrying weapons in a way that frightened or concerned our associates and customers,” said Doug McMillan, Walmart CEO. “We have also had well-intentioned customers acting lawfully that have inadvertently caused a store to be evacuated and local law enforcement to be called to respond.”
What’s Ohio impact?
In Ohio, it is legal to carry a firearm — whether a small handgun or a long rifle — that is visible to the public as long as the holder is legally allowed to own a gun, said Karl Kordalis, who represents clients with firearm charges. But private companies such as Walmart and Kroger can enact policies preventing open-carry, concealed-carry or both in stores.
“How are we to identify a person with a gun whether they’re … good guys or bad guys — how are we supposed to identify that? And so people are frightened,” said Toby Hoover, founder of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.
That public opinion has shifted over time, said Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association. Open carry used to be more acceptable than concealed carry, which people thought only criminals did to hide their weapons, he said.
Concealed carry laws, which also vary by state, require anyone discreetly carrying a firearm in Ohio to have a valid concealed carry license. Walmart said it will make no changes regarding its concealed carry policy, continuing to allow Ohioans with a license to carry in its stores. Kroger also allows customers to carry concealed weapons and did not say it would change the policy.
A local Kroger spokeswoman couldn’t address how the Cincinnati-based company would enforce the request. McMillan said Walmart is briefing its employees on how to handle a situation where a firearm owner is openly carrying in a store and signage will be introduced in the next several weeks.
Area experts, including Hoover, Irvine and Kordalis have said banning solely open carry is a new move. Most of the time, a standard sticker universally known to mean guns aren’t allowed is posted on the outside doors, warning gun owners to return their firearms to their vehicle.
But none of the three have ever seen a sign limiting open carry, they said.
“Everybody’s seen the no gun sign, but I don’t know what a no open carry sign looks like. In that sense I think it will be very difficult to enforce,” Irvine said. “How do you know I saw the sign? How do you know I understood the sign?…This is kind of a new tactic or strategy.”
How will it be enforced?
It’s unclear what policies the stores will enact for handling situations where a shopper is open carrying, but Kordalis said customers could be trespassed, meaning they’re given a notice that they’re no longer allowed to shop or enter Kroger or Walmart stores. If they do, that could result in a criminal trespass, which can result in jail time.
“It’s not very common that you openly see someone carrying a firearm into an establishment. Obviously with the climate today, if somebody did carry a firearm openly, it would possibly lead to some sort of panic,” Kordalis said.
Both Kroger and Walmart also said they’re encourage elected officials to pass laws that would strengthen background checks and remove weapons from the hands of people posing a risk of violence, a move toward an official stance of gun control that hasn’t been seen as prominently among the retailers.
“They believe that is what the majority of their customers want the store to do…the retailer believes, as we are seeing with other brands, that they can no longer remain neutral on divisive issues,” said David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group, which focuses on branding. “Today’s consumers expect that a brand will take a stand on political issues and Kroger responded to this with its action.”
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