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Moms group aims at Target over 'open carry' guns policy

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is now "targeting" the large retail corporation to change its firearms policy.
Shoppers are seen at a Target store during Black Friday sales in the Brooklyn borough of New York
Shoppers are seen at a Target store during Black Friday sales in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Nov. 29, 2013.

That large, red, circular bull's-eye on the side of retail buildings throughout the country is the latest "target" for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

The Indiana-based organization on Wednesday launched a petition to request the management of Target forbid customers from openly carrying firearms in its stores. Members of the group, which is backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said gun owners armed with semiautomatic rifles have walked into the retailer's locations in Alabama, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

"Target is a central part of the lives of American moms – we expect to be safe and secure when we wheel our kids around in the store's red shopping carts," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. "How can we, or the store's employees or law enforcement, possibly know if they are good guys or bad guys?"

When asked for comment, Target spokesperson Molly Snyder told msnbc in an email: "At Target, the safety and security of our guests and team members is our highest priority. Target does not sell firearms or ammunition and, as it relates to this issue, we follow all state and federal laws."

A real, loaded gun was found in the toy aisle of a South Carolina Target store last Friday, according to local reports.

The company prides itself in having more parents and legal guardians -- 38% -- shop at Target locations than at any other discount store, according to its website. Additionally, about 90% of its customers are women. The chain came under fire at the end of 2013 for a credit card breach, which ultimately forced the now-former president to provide his resignation.

Moms Demand Action initiated a social-media campaign on Twitter, using the hashtags "#OffTarget" and "#GunSense" to notify the public of their most recent effort.

The new corporate campaign, directed at the retailer's interim chief executive officer, is the organization's latest attempt to request a national chain alter its gun policy. Laws regarding the open carry of handguns vary by state. But some private companies have responded to the group's public appeal. With thousands of signatures from supporters since last fall, Moms Demand Action successfully and separately pushed Sonic Drive-In, Brinker International (parent company of Chili's Grill & Bar), Chipotle, Starbucks, and Jack in the Box to ban firearms on their premises. They also forced Facebook and Instagram to prohibit the sales of firearms on the social-media platforms.

They created their petition to Sonic and Chili's after armed members of the San Antonio chapter of Open Carry Texas entered the food chains.

RELATED: When Congress won't act on gun control, individual groups will

More than half of the American public -- 55% -- wants to ban guns in public places, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll released earlier this week. Additionally, 72% of Democrats and 41% of Republicans favor a no-gun policy in food establishments and retail stores.

Much of the grassroots organization's campaigns are based on the loophole in the federal background checks system, which currently doesn't require unlicensed private sellers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of the sales. The House last week approved a bipartisan amendment to boost funding for background checks, thus marking the first congressional effort since a bipartisan bill failed in the Senate just four months after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Leaders of the National Rifle Association this week apologized to Open Carry Texas for calling their Second Amendment demonstrative actions "weird" and "just not neighborly" in a public letter.

"In each case, just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be done. In each case, gun owners would do well to consider the effect their behavior has on others, whether fellow gun owners or not," NRA leaders wrote in their letter. A small number of Texans "crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness," they added. The release continued to note that the open carry of handguns, not long guns, is legal, relatively common, and not controversial in many states.

But, NRA Executive Director Chris Cox on Tuesday retracted the "poor word choice" during an interview broadcast on the organization's network. The NRA, he said, made a "mistake" when an alert went public calling the groups' behavior "somehow not normal."