Kroger Policy Attracts Pro And Anti-Gun Advocates
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The nation's largest grocery chain is caught in the middle of an emotional debate. Advocates for and against guns are jamming Kroger's phone lines and inbox over its firearms policy. Some say the current policy of following local and state gun carrying laws is just fine. Others want the company to ban guns in its 2,600 stores across the country and are encouraging a protest effort until it dies. Facing similar pressure, companies like Starbucks, Target and Chipotle changed their policies, but Kroger may be a tougher cell. Tana Weingartner of member station WVXU in Cincinnati reports.
TANA WEINGARTNER, BYLINE: Open a newspaper or click on the right website and you'll likely see one of several new ads targeting Cincinnati-based Kroger. One features a little girl holding an ice cream cone in a grocery aisle next to a man carrying an assault rifle. It reads, attention, shoppers - Kroger doesn't permit outside food and drink inside their stores, so why would they allow this loaded gun?
Kroger operates in 34 states under 17 banners, like Smith's, Ralph's, Fred Myer and Harris Teeter. It's been almost a month for since Moms Demand Action began calling on women to boycott the company on weekends, but Kroger hasn't budged. So founder Shannon Watts says, her group is increasing the pressure.
SHANNON WATTS: Kroger is a very important brand to women and mothers in America. The majority of grocery shoppers are women. They take their children with them to stores. Women make nearly 80 percent of all spending decisions in this country for their families. We have to use our voices.
(SOUNDBITE OF GROCERY CARTS)
WEINGARTNER: It's a little after five on a work day, and women are carting bags of groceries from a suburban Cincinnati Kroger to their cars. When asked about the store's gun policy, many women respond like Maureen Grashof.
MAUREEN GRASHOF: I really never knew it had a policy.
WEINGARTNER: But most also have an opinion.
CLOATINE BRANSCUM: My name is Cloatine Branscum. I probably would support to change it. I just think it's best that not to carry the gun when you're shopping at the grocery store.
BRIANNA HASZ: My names Brianna Hasz. They should be allowed to carry guns. It's the Ohio law. Can't change it.
WEINGARTNER: Kroger wouldn't comment for the story. But in a statement, the company says, its long-standing policy on this issue is to follow state and local laws. Jeroen van Leersum is an analyst with Johnson Investment Counsel. He says, in an ideal world, a company like Kroger just wants to sell groceries and not get caught in the middle of a political debate. But he does think Kroger officials are monitoring customer feedback and waiting to see if there's an effect on their brand or bottom line.
JEROEN VAN LEERSUM: And until they see that, I'm not sure they're going to be driven into significant action because any action they have will alienate some side of the issue. And that's why they're kind of sitting back and saying, can we just absorb this, perhaps? And will it just go away?
WEINGARTNER: Kroger is scheduled to release its second- quarter earnings on Thursday. Moms Demand Action is funded in large part by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's pledged to spend up to $50 million supporting gun control advocates. That includes bankrolling the six-figure ad buy. The NRA responded with its own campaign, targeting Bloomberg. Jim Irvine is chairman of Buckeye Firearms Association, an Ohio gun rights group. He doubts the Bloomberg-backed protest will get Kroger to change its policy.
JIM IRVINE: Business owners care more about making money and running a successful business at what they do. That's why they're involved in it. You know, at the end of the day, the Americans are free people. We think like that. So I think he's going to waste a lot of money, but he's got a lot to waste.
WEINGARTNER: The group Moms Demand Action notes that success with companies like Starbucks and Target, but there's an important distinction. Those companies have agreed to request customers not carry guns into their stores, but haven't banned them out right. For NPR News, I'm Tana Weingartner in Cincinnati. [POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: Moms Demand Action is asking Kroger to ban the open carrying of weapons. It is not asking the chain to bar customers from carrying legally concealed firearms.]
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Clarification Sept. 8, 2014
Moms Demand Action is asking Kroger to ban the open carrying of weapons. It is not asking the chain to bar customers from carrying legally concealed firearms. The story does not make that distinction clear; neither did a previous Web introduction.