Advocates push to ban open carry as gun violence flares during pandemic

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Across the country, anger over social distancing has turned into gun violence when people are carrying weapons.

A coalition of gun control groups is calling for major retailers to ban open carry in their stores when they reopen, citing a spate of gun incidents related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The groups — March for Our Lives, the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, and Guns Down America — sent letters to 18 companies urging the policy change. The companies include 7-Eleven, Family Dollar, Waffle House, and McDonalds, which have all had gun violence incidents in their stores since stay-at-home orders were put in place in March to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"We believe that American customers deserve to shop free of armed intimidation and we ask all retailers, particularly those that have invested in the communities they serve, to review their policies and procedures to ensure their stores are as safe as possible for their customers and their employees," reads the letter, which the coalition provided to the American Independent.

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While crime overall is down during the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of gun violence have not decreased in a similar fashion.

Some major cities in the United States, such as Dallas, Nashville, and Tucson, have actually seen the number of gun violence incidents increase since stay-at-home orders were put in place, according to a report from the Trace, a nonpartisan outlet dedicated to covering gun violence in America.

Across the country, anger over social distancing measures has turned into gun violence when people are carrying weapons.

At a Family Dollar in Michigan, a security guard was shot dead on May 1 by a patron reportedly angry about the store's mask policy. An employee at a Waffle House in Colorado said he was shot on May 14 after he confronted a customer who wasn't wearing a mask.

The groups say these shootings show the need to ban open carry, the policies that allow people to carry guns openly in public spaces.

"Guns have no place in our supermarkets, movie theaters, restaurants, and other places of commerce," Alexis Confer, executive director of March For Our Lives, said in a statement. "Today, we call on corporations all across the country to put the safety and well-being of people first."

Many companies have indeed led the way on adopting gun control measures, as Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have refused to act.

In February 2018, after the deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Dick's Sporting Goods announced it wouldn't sell guns to those under 21, and stopped selling assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

After a mass shooting at a Walmart store in Texas in 2019, the retailer announced it would end the sale of handgun ammunition, and asked that customers stopped carrying guns openly in its stores.

Executives of almost 150 companies urged the Senate to pass gun control legislation — including expanding background checks and creating stricter "red flag" laws that allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from those deemed a threat — following the Walmart shooting.

The House in February 2019 passed a historic gun control bill that expanded background checks, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take it up for more than a year.

"The goal here is to push retailers to follow the trend we've been seeing of businesses recognizing that their top priority is to keep customers and employees safe, and that there's a business cost associated with our incredibly loose gun laws," Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, said in an interview.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.