A national gun control group hopes the nation's largest grocery store chain will follow the likes of Target and Starbucks and ban customers from openly carrying guns in its stores.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is running print and online ads across the country targeting the open carry movement. The ads feature a shirtless man, a boy with a skateboard and a little girl with an ice cream cone. Each of them is standing in a grocery store aisle next to someone with a rifle slung over their shoulder. The ad asks "one of them isn't welcome at Kroger, guess which one."
"They're very powerful because the perfectly illustrate how weak gun laws are across the county in particular in Texas," said Kelly Burke with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.
Kroger, like many other private businesses, aligns itself with the local laws and regulations at each of its roughly 2,500 stores. Texas law says that handguns must be concealed and that the person carrying have a concealed handgun license. But since no such restriction is made on long guns like rifles and shotguns, open carry activists like Pastor Terry Holcomb have staged multiple open carry "walkabouts" to private businesses like Walmart and Starbucks to show the disparity in state law.
"Whether it's open or concealed we just want to be able to choose how we carry. We believe that's our constitutional right," said Holcomb during a 2013 open carry walk in Huntsville.
In that open carry display Holcomb was asked to leave a Walmart by store employees, he was welcomed at a Jack in the Box, and then nervous customers called 911 when he walked into a Starbucks in the same parking lot.
In a statement to KHOU, Kroger explained why it allows the guns, saying it doesn't want employees confronting legally armed customers. Here is the full text of that statement from Kroger public affairs manager Joy Partain.
"The safety of our customers and associates is one of our most important company values. Millions of customers are present in our busy grocery stores every day and we don't want to put our associates in a position of having to confront a customer who is legally carrying a gun. That is why our long-standing policy on this issue is to follow state and local laws and to ask customers to be respectful of others while shopping to feed their families. We know that our customers are passionate on both sides of this issue and we trust them to be responsible in our stores."
"I think I would be pretty appalled to see any type of weapon just openly displayed like that," said customer Parita Kurian outside the Kroger on Studemont near I-10. "So a conscious effort made by Kroger, I think, is the right thing to do."
"I think a concealed handgun license if you have that then you should be able to carry it in the store and a restaurant. I know a lot of people that do," said customer Jeannie Voorheis. But she said a rifle over someone's shoulder in the produce aisle would be something completely different. "No that's pushing it because it would scare people. It would scare me."
"We absolutely hope that Kroger changes their policy to prohibit open carry of weapons in their store," said Burke. "I'm taking my kids into the grocery store and it's not by job assess whether someone is a threat or not."
Target and Starbucks had similar policies where they chose to abide by local rules and regulations on open carry. But under pressure from the Moms group have since changed their policies to ban the open carry of weapons in their stores.