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Target in the crosshairs of gun rights fight

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Target shopper
A customer shops for groceries at a Target in Chicago. Gun rights activists in different parts of the country have started carrying rifles into Target stores.
Scott Olson/Getty Images)

After gun rights advocates began bringing rifles into Target stores in Texas and several other states, the retailer suddenly finds itself in the middle of an apparent battle between them and people who want it to prohibit guns in stores.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which has previously lobbied Chipotle and other merchants to prohibit guns in their stores, has asked Target to also do so. The group is using the hashtag #OffTarget to drum up support on Twitter.

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said people carrying rifles have been spotted at Target stores in Wisconsin, Texas, Alabama, Ohio, North Carolina, Washington, and Virginia.

"It's time for companies like Target to weigh in and have a policy around guns, just like they do around smoking and proper attire, because, unfortunately, gun extremists believe that when you don't have a policy in place, it means you support open carry in your stores," Watts said.

Watts said her organization supports the Second Amendment. "But people walking through the aisles flaunting their loaded weapons — as these extremist gun groups have been doing — is unacceptable," she said. "How can we, or the store's employees or law enforcement, possibly know if they are good guys or bad guys?"

Watts said that she thought Target would take a stand against guns, noting the company boasts that 80 to 90 percent of Target's customers are female and 38 percent of customers have children.

The gun rights organization Open Carry Texas has a photo of an activist in a Target store, with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder. The group contends that it would be a bad idea for Target to ban guns.

  "I wouldn't feel safe taking my family into an establishment where the only person potentially armed is a criminal," said Tov Henderson, a spokesman for the group.

Henderson said Open Carry Texas is trying to persuade the Texas Legislature to allow people to legally carry handguns in the open.

  If rifles can be carried openly, advocates for such laws ask why not handguns?

  "There's an absurdity in Texas law," Henderson said. "You may walk around with an AR-15 strapped to your back. But you may not carry a Glock or whatever your choice of handgun is on your hip, because at that point, you're committing a felony."

  Rifle-toting open-carry advocates have frequently been photographed in restaurants. But Henderson said members of his group never went anywhere they were not wanted and respected the property owners' wishes. He said the group now has an official policy of not carrying rifles into businesses.

  After long walks carrying their guns, Henderson said, people were just looking for a bite to eat.

  "Sometimes, we walk miles," he said. "Eating in the restaurants was never part of the so-called demonstration or walk. It was just because after hours of walking, people get hungry. So, we'd find a restaurant that was friendly to us being able to come in to eat, because we have our rifles with us."

  In recent months, restaurant chains Chili's, Starbucks, Chipotle and Jack in the Box have denounced open-carry displays after armed men gathered in their stores.

  The National Rifle Association also has denounced such demonstrations as "downright foolish," not to mention counterproductive.

  When a whole group of visibly armed men show up in a store, the NRA said in a statement Friday, "It's downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself."

  However, on Tuesday, the NRA seemed to back away from the statement.

  "The National Rifle Association supports open carry," NRA lobbyist Chris Cox said. "An alert went out that described this type of behavior as weird, or somehow not normal. And that was a mistake...Our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners."