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Should Target allow large guns in its stores?

A gun-control group wants Target (TGT) to ban people from openly carrying firearms in its stores.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has launched a petition demanding that the retailer adopt rules that would stop customers from visibly carrying weapons while they shop. The petition seems to stem from photos of gun-rights groups in Texas shopping at Target with what appear to be semiautomatic rifles strapped around their shoulders.

On its Facebook page, the Open Carry Texas group says the photos were taken in March, and that it has since changed its policy about carrying long arms into businesses. The group also says it seeks permission from a business before its members go in with firearms.

The Moms Demand Action group says it set its sights on Target because so many families go there. "It's a place we take our children to shop," spokeswoman Erika Soto Lamb told The Wall Street Journal. "We've been disturbed by some of the demonstrations that gun extremists have held with loaded rifles inside and outside some stores. Assault rifles have no place in the baby aisle."

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The group is coming off of a string of successes, recently persuading Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) to ban guns at its restaurants. Similar petitions resulted in Sonic (SONC) and Brinker International (EAT) also asking customers to leave guns at home or in cars. Starbucks (SBUX) was for years the focus of a prolonged campaign by both sides of the issue, and last year asked customers not to bring guns into stores.

Target isn't saying much about the controversy at this point. The chain says it does not sell guns or ammunition, and follows state and federal laws regarding open-carry policies.

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Although it is unclear if the company will respond to the public pressure to ban guns, the company currently has other headaches to deal with. Those including a failed launch in Canada and a U.S. data breach that exposed as many as 40 million customers' debit and credit card numbers. Most important, any decision on a possible gun ban might be delayed by a void in leadership. Target is looking for a new chief executive after Gregg Steinhafel resigned last month.

There has been some debate about whether bringing guns into stores is an effective statement for open-carry groups. The National Rifle Association came under fire this week for reprimanding what it called the "downright scary" behavior of an attention-hungry few. "It's downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself," the group said in its statement.

The NRA apologized for the statement Tuesday. "Our job isn't to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners," Chris Cox, executive director of NRA policy, said on the group's website.

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