Open Carry Denied – The Retail Dominoes Fall; First Walmart, Now Publix And 7 More


by Richard Cameron


National Compass recently published a comprehensive and wide ranging report on the issue of open carry in the United States; an issue that has become a prime facet of the debate over gun violence and the high visibility sub set of gun deaths – mass shootings.

In that report, “Open Carry – The Legality, The Ethics And The Risk To Public Safety” we covered specifics of laws applying to open carry, both at the federal level and its status in the various states. We also devoted a segment having to do with the question of where firearms can be openly carried, not just in public spaces, but in settings like retail commerce.

At the time that article was published – weeks after mass shooting events in California, Ohio and Texas, there were a number of national retailers that were either on the fence about allowing shoppers to openly display weapons, or had a policy, more or less in the breach, allowing regional and local store managers to make the call, based on the characteristics of the communities those locations were situated in. We reported Walmart’s position on the question:

Walmart’s response was limited. Randy Hargrove, a public relations liaison, stated, “We follow all federal and state regulations with regard to firearms. There’s no change to our policies at this time (in the wake of the shootings.” That, in effect, meant that armed individuals will still be allowed to access the stores.

The policies of several other retailers were outlined as well, the likes of Chuck E. Cheese Pizza, Jack-in-the-Box, Chili’s, Outback, Chipotle, Waffle House, Panera Bread, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Cheesecake Factory, Target, IKEA, Whataburger, Sonic Drive Ins and CostcoMcDonalds continues to strenuously avoid clarifying their policy on the issue.

The policies of these businesses to prohibit open carry, were based in part on incidents and partially on public opinion surveys, such as was conducted by Edelman Intelligence that shows most consumers do not want to shop in a retail outlet where other shoppers are openly carrying firearms.

Graph showing results of Edelman Intelligence polling firm's survey of customers of national retail chains regarding open carry policies. It reflects the majority do not want to shop in the presence of others carrying firearms in non concealed mode.

Now, in the wake of yet another incident in Texas, this time in Midland and Odessa involving seven dead and 21 wounded; the pressure on the holdouts among the major retail outlets has ratcheted up, resulting in the decisions of not only Walmart, but a handful of other merchandisers to prohibit customers entering their facilities with firearms openly displayed.

Walmart, in making the announcement, stated:

“We know these decisions will inconvenience some of our customers, and we hope they will understand,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a memo to employees on Tuesday. “As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same.”

The Walmart policy will also extend to its big box wholesale outlets, Sam’s Club, who now join Costco in that market segment in asking shoppers to shed their weapons before entering.

photo of three men walking through Target store open carrying semi-automatic rifles, before Target adopted a no open carry policy.

Before we discuss the other chains that followed suit, it’s worth pointing out that when we say “prohibit”, the term needs some qualification. The stores are going to be posting advisory signs requesting that persons not enter the premises in open carry mode.

Generally, store employees and management are not going to attempt to escort the person out of the store or engage in verbal confrontations.

If they do request the shopper to leave, it will be up to the store to contact law enforcement, whose responsibility it is to serve notice to the individual and if necessary, arrest them based on trespassing laws.

Retailers are advised that there is more leverage to bring action against violators of the policy, if the policy is posted properly according to local or state ordinances. Kroger – a national conglomerate of supermarkets such as Fry’s, King Soopers, Ralphs, City Market, Dillon’s and Food 4 Less, announced their policy shortly after Walmart’s:

“Kroger is respectfully asking that customers no longer openly carry firearms into our stores, other than authorized law enforcement officers,” Kroger’s vice president of corporate affairs, Jessica Adelman, said in a statement.  If anyone senses that Kroger’s decision is based on concerns for the safety of their customers or their ability to shop without the anxiety of having armed individuals roaming the aisles, they would be mistaken. 

The prime motivator of the policy change is the record of 25 shootings in various of their locations, resulting in 8 deaths and several injuries. At least one of those incidents resulted in a lawsuit against Kroger, based on the murder of a shopper, Maurice Stallard, in their Jeffersontown neighborhood Lexington, Kentucky store.  Another shopper, Vickie Lee Jones was shot by the gunman – a self confessed White supremacist, Gregory Alan Bush. 

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that the suspect made a racial reference to a man he encountered on his way out.  Witness Ed Harrell told the paper he was waiting for his wife in the parking lot when he heard gunshots.  Crouching down, Harrell, who was carrying concealed, said he saw the gunman walk “nonchalantly” by with gun by his side. He said he called out to ask what was going on, and the gunman replied: “Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.” Both of Bush’s victims were black. 

Drug chains Walgreens and CVS were next – although both had already given local management discretion to post no-open carry before the companies rolled out a national policy. CVS, who might have been in a public relations dilemma after their national competitor Walgreens announced it’s position, stated that they were following, “a growing chorus of businesses in requesting that our customers, other than authorized law enforcement personnel, do not bring firearms into our stores.”

Wegmans, a grocery chain on the East Coast and Northeast, released their policy via Twitter:

tweet from Wegmans public relations department announcing their new policy asking that shoppers not enter the store with firearms in open carry mode.

We held the draft on this article from publication, because we were reasonably certain that another major retail chain was set to throw its hat into the ring and join the other merchandisers in announcing a no open carry policy to their customers. And that is exactly what happened.  In the last 24 hours, Publix, another supermarket chain in the South, has issued a change in policy.  “Publix respectfully requests that only law enforcement officials openly carry firearms in our stores,” spokesman Brian West wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Photo of Publix supermarket location in Florida.

Lakeland, Florida based Publix has stores in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia.

Their locations in Florida are not affected by the change, since open carry is already prohibited in that state. 

The announcement may not be entirely attributable to the recent mass shootings, given that Publix has had some troubling incidents in recent months with accidental discharges of weapons that resulted in customer injuries.

A distinction worth noting, is that either by implication, or explicitly, many of these businesses do not have a policy against lawful concealed carry of firearms. Walmart, specifically is excluding concealed carry from its restrictions.  Now, in the last few days, a handful of other large retailers have announced no open carry rules.  Albertsons, the parent company of those food stores as well as Vons and Safeway markets, says;

“We see our grocery stores as a hub in local communities & we’re proud to serve our neighbors. We want our stores to feel safe & welcoming for all, so we respectfully ask customers to not openly carry firearms in our stores unless they are authorized law enforcement officers.”

Giant, Food Lion and German owned retailer, Aldi Markets also signed on to statements on September 9th, alerting customers of their new positions on open carry. 

The NRA reacted strongly against Walmart and the other retailers’s new positions denying open carrying:

“It is shameful to see Walmart succumb to the pressure of the anti-gun elites. Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by lines at other retailers who are more supportive of America’s fundamental freedoms.”

The reaction is not surprising because the NRA has made such predictions before – as in the case of Dick’s Sporting Goods. The store did experience an initial hiccup in sales and earnings in 2018, but has bounced back in dramatic fashion. Sales were up 3.2% in the second quarter of 2019, ahead of competitors in the same retail space and the chain experienced the company’s highest single quarter sales boost in three years. The company’s stock spiked after the earnings report.

Despite the outrage from militant gun rights advocates, Walmart is actually benefiting small firearms retailers, who will take up the slack in the market now that Walmart is not selling the guns that these dealers specialize in – as well as delivering a better customer experience, allowing the gun enthusiasts to browse with rifles slung over the shoulder to their heart’s content.

The type of signage that must be displayed at the entrance of any store in a legal open carry state in order to authorize local law enforcement to enforce trespassing laws.

Meanwhile shoppers in California will not even notice the open carry ban because gun owners are no longer allowed to open carry anywhere other than in certain rural counties or at designated shooting ranges such as Raahauge’s in Chino, California. 

Even when open carry was legal in California and other Western states, I don’t recall having ever seen anyone in a store with a rifle, nor even a pistol in an exposed holster.

Where these new policies are going to have an impact, will be in some of the rural states – mostly in the South and Southeast.

One notable exception to that is Florida, where open carry of long guns is subject to a blanket prohibition. The above image is an example of the type of signage that is necessary for a merchant to request that police enforce trespassing laws on the basis of prohibited open carry. 

What is the psychology and social dynamic associated, not with guns in general – because that would take a book to explore, but of open carry? That will be the focus of the next report in this series

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