Target announced Wednesday it is adopting a no-guns policy and, in a statement, asked that customers not bring guns into stores.
Even customers in localities where guns are allowed will be subject to the chain's new policy.
"Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create," Target's interim CEO John Mulligan said in a statement.
The decision follows protests orchestrated by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun control group that in recent months achieved what once seemed like an unlikely goal: convincing many major American companies to take a stance on guns.
"Target's decision shows that moms calling for reasonable reforms can move giants," said Erika Soto Lamb, the communications director for a coalition of gun reform organizations that include Moms Demand Action.
The third largest retailer in the U.S., Target is the biggest company yet to ban the so-called open carry of guns in its stores. (It should be noted that the company's logo is literally a target of the sort used at shooting ranges.) The Minneapolis-based company has about 1,700 stores in the U.S. and brought in more than $70 billion in revenue last year. Chipotle, Chili’s and Sonic have made similar statements in recent months.
The moms' group and pro-gun activists have been warring over retail turf for the past few months, pushing businesses to take a stand on the issue. The pattern has played out like this: a pro-gun group stages demonstrations at a location of a major national chain, bringing rifles into a store or parking lot. Then, the moms' group puts out a statement and urges the chain to prohibit guns.
In Target's case, the Moms' group surfaced photographs early last month of men from a pro-gun group called Open Carry Texas toting rifles in a Dallas-area store. Then the Moms' group launched a national petition to ban guns in Target that garnered more than 350,000 signatures, according to Lamb. The Moms' group staged a small protest outside the retail giant’s shareholder meeting in Dallas on June 11.
A week later, Open Carry Texas returned, rallying in the parking lot outside a Target in Irving, a Dallas suburb. When members of the Moms’ group gathered outside a San Antonio-area Target days after that, they were asked by a Target employee to leave.
Chipotle was the first major company to ask customers not to bring firearms in its locations in May.
Soon after, protests by the same cadre of gun-toting activists prompted bans at Chili’s Bar and Grill and Sonic later that month.
C.J. Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas, did not immediately respond to an email from The Huffington Post requesting comment.
It’s an unexpectedly bold move by Mulligan, Target’s long-time financial chief, who has served as interim CEO since Gregg Steinhafel resigned in May. Target's revenue and reputation has suffered since hackers stole millions of customers’ credit- and debit-card records last December.
“They’ve got a lot on their plate right now,” Kenneth Perkins, an analyst at Morningstar, told HuffPost. “They’re trying to sort through stuff and sometimes decisions have to be made to move the company forward.”
Ted Marzilli, CEO and global managing director of YouGov BrandIndex, which tracks the perception of brands, said Target has waded into a dangerous waters by taking a hard stance on a political issue.
"This is going to play different depending on the state you're located in," Marzilli told HuffPost. "Perhaps a more nuanced approach to this might have been a more savvy way to play it politically."
Walmart, which sells more guns than any other company in the world, has no plans to follow Target's lead. A spokeswoman for the retailing giant said it does not plan on making any statement on firearms.
Ben Hallman and Kim Bhasin contributed reporting