It is generally legal to openly carry a gun in most places in West Virginia, but at least five national chains with branches in the Mountain State would rather you not bring guns to their businesses.
On Wednesday, Target announced it was asking customers to not bring guns to its stores.
“Starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target — even in communities where it is permitted by law,” interim Target CEO John Mulligan wrote on the company’s website. “Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.”
Private property owners in West Virginia can prohibit guns on their property, but that’s not what Target did.
The company is only asking customers not to bring guns into its stores. If guns are brought into its stores, the company said its employees would not ask the gun owner to leave or take any other action.
“We don’t currently have plans to proactively communicate with guests beyond the messages that were issued from leadership this week,” Molly Snyder, a company spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
Target’s policy change was announced after demonstrations by the group Open Carry Texas, in which groups of people ambled and shopped in the stores with AR-15s and similar guns slung over their shoulders.
Target’s stance is similar to that of several fast food restaurants which have also asked that guns not be brought on their property.
Last September, Starbucks, using language that would be copied by Target, issued a statement “respectfully requesting” that guns not be brought into stores, even in states where open carry is legal.
“This is a request and not an outright ban,” Starbucks President and CEO Howard Schultz wrote. “Enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on.”
Kay Albright, a shift supervisor at the Starbucks in the Charleston Town Center mall said that they’ve never had an issue with someone openly carrying a gun to the coffee shop.
“But even if somebody were,” Albright said, “If somebody comes in, we’re not allowed to ask them to leave.”
J.C. Russell, a manager at the Chili’s in the Charleston Town Center, said they’ve never had an incident with someone openly carrying a gun, but referred further questions to the company’s corporate headquarters.
Brinker International, the corporate parent of Chili’s, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but in its initial announcement on May 27 also stressed that they were requesting guns be left at home, not banning them.
“We kindly ask that guests refrain from openly carrying firearms into our restaurants and we will continue to follow state and local laws on this issue,” Brinker International said in a statement.
Also on May 27, Sonic asked that customers not bring guns into restaurants.
A manager at the Sonic in Barboursville said they’d never had an issue and that she wasn’t aware of the chain’s national policy.
On May 20, Chipotle issued a statement “respectfully asking” customers to not bring guns into the Mexican fast food restaurants.
A manager at the Chipotle in Barboursville said that locally they’ve never had any issues with guns in the restaurant.
If somebody did bring a gun into the restaurant, the manager would only say that they would “abide by the rules of the locality we’re in.”
Chipotle corporate headquarters did not return a request to clarify what that meant.
In West Virginia, even if a property owner (or renter, or caretaker) prohibits guns, it is not a crime to enter the property while armed, according to a state firearm handbook issued by the attorney general.
But, if upon being asked to leave or give up the gun a person refuses, it becomes a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Guns are always prohibited in West Virginia courthouses, prisons and jails, grade schools and high schools and at the Capitol Complex.
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