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Gun rights demonstration in aisles of Target spurs social media backlash

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There's a man with an assault rifle slung around his shoulder, two armed cohorts flanking him on each side, strolling through Target with a grin on his face and a pack of Oreos in his hands.

The photo, and a few others like it, were taken in a Texas Target back in March, says Open Carry Texas, the group that organized the demonstration. But now Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – a group formed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting – is pressuring the store to clarify its weapons policy, and calling out Open Carry Texas as "gun extremists" in a social media blitz.

The photos have roused people on both sides – gun rights advocates pointing fervently to the U.S. Constitution, while those seeking tighter gun control call for stricter standards.

So Target suddenly finds itself squarely in the center of the country's gun rights debate.

According to USA Today, Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder says the company has no policy concerning customers carrying firearms in its stores.

"The safety and security of our guests and team members is our highest priority," Snyder says in the statement. "... [A]nd while I do not have information specific to this organization to share, what I can tell you is that Target is committed to following all state and federal laws."


The internet campaign from Moms Demand Action started Tuesday night, when the group began tweeting out photos of the in-store Target demonstration along with the hashtag #OffTarget.

Twitter feeds are plastered with tweets from concerned customers, suggesting they will stop shopping at Target if others are allowed to openly carry firearms in the store.

The group is asking supporters to sign a petition, addressed to interim Target CEO John Mulligan, requesting the company issue "gun sense policies to keep your customers and employees safe."

On Facebook, the group says similar events have taken place at Target stores in Alabama, Ohio, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin, and Virginia – without any new policies being implemented by the company.

The founder of Moms Demand Action, Shannon Watts, has been particularly active on Twitter.

A Constitutional Right

According to Texas Law Shield, it is legal to carry around a shotgun or rifle in the state, open or concealed, in a non-threatening or non-alarming manner. Handguns have tighter restrictions. The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action notes there are very few restrictions on purchasing or owning a shotgun or rifle in Texas – no permit, registration or license is required.

The Target photos are not social media "Gotcha!" moments. Many were taken and posted by Open Carry Texas when it happened – a demonstration of an American's right to bear arms. A photo from October of 2013 was posted to the group's Facebook page, showing a man carrying a rifle at a Target checkout line.

And Target is not the only company this is done at.

There are photos from Chik-Fil-A, a Kroger, Staples and Taco Bell.

The images used by Moms Demand Action are from March, which Open Carry Texas says makes its movement a publicity stunt.

"#guncontrolextremists are now targeting (pun intended) Target stores by digging into our archives and trying to find anything with which they can to attack us. ... They want to appear as if this is some new phenomenon," the group wrote on Facebook.

Open Carry Texas also says it has changed its policy about "carrying long arms into business[es]" since the photos were taken back in March. In April, the CEO and President of Open Carry Texas, C.J. Grisham, offered to debate Moms Demand Action's Watts – but that was before Tuesday's social media campaign.

Company Reaction

While Target has not announced a change (or no change) in its policy, others have.

Video obtained and posted online by Mother Jones shows a gun rights group entering a Sonics and Chili's restaurant while displaying rifles. The group gets kicked out both times. Three days later, both companies instituted a new policy asking customers not to openly carry firearms in the restaurant, the site notes. The Pioneer Press says Starbucks, Chipotle and Jack in the Box have made similar moves.

In addition, the National Rifle Association late last week released a statement calling the public open carry demonstrations "downright weird," and "not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself."

"More to the point, it's just not neighborly, which is out of character for the big-hearted residents of Texas," the statement continues. "Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners."

A few days later, as KERA News reports, the NRA's chief lobbyist called the statement a "mistake," saying it was an individual staffer that "expressed his personal opinion."

Open Carry Texas "thanked and applauded" the NRA for clarifying its stance.

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