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Moms want corporate action on guns

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America applauds Panera Bread's recent decision to encourage customers to leave their guns at home – and we hope that more companies will continue to improve their gun policies to make their customers, employees, and our communities safer.

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Shannon Watts speaks about gun violence in schools during a news conference on Capitol Hill, February 12, 2014, in Washington.
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Shannon Watts speaks about gun violence in schools during a news conference on Capitol Hill, February 12, 2014, in Washington.

Starbucks led the corporate charge last year when its CEO Howard Schultz asked that customers no longer bring guns into its stores following our first-ever corporate campaign. Since that victory, tens of thousands of Americans have joined us in calling on Facebook, Instagram, Chipotle, Chili's, Jack in the Box, Sonic, and Target to implement safer gun policies — and they've all listened because they recognize the power of moms. And just last week we launched an advertising campaign urging Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain, to prohibit open carry.

I am often asked why we're pressuring businesses to prohibit the open carrying of firearms on their property, which is perfectly legal in more than 40 states. You would assume that open carry is strictly regulated. You would be wrong.

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In a majority of states, it is completely legal to openly carry a loaded gun in public without any training, permit, or background check. In some states, there isn't even an age requirement to open carry a loaded firearm. The danger created by this lack of regulation is dramatically increased by the fact that an estimated 6.6 million gun transfers occurred in 2012 without the buyers undergoing a criminal background check—despite polling that shows 92 percent of all Americans and 74 percent of NRA members, support background checks on all gun sales.

Because of the lax gun laws in place in many states, there's no way to tell if a shopper with an assault rifle strapped to his back is a good guy with a gun or a bad guy — and the consequences of confusing the two could be fatal. It should never be incumbent upon customers and employees to make that decision. When elected officials fail to protect their communities, it's the responsibility of business leaders to stand up for public safety.

While women make up only a quarter of state legislators, one in five members of U.S. Congress, and just a sliver of Fortune 500 CEOs, moms are the consumers-in-chief of our households. Women make about 80 percent of all spending decisions for American families. In other words — women mean business. These businesses are operating on our turf. As moms, we have the power to change corporate policies by taking our business to companies that stand up for common-sense safety measures. And we've already proven the collective strength of our supporters: We won our biggest corporate campaign to date against Target after our petition garnered nearly 400,000 signatures and we made more than 10,000 calls into its corporate headquarters.

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It matters when major businesses respond to public-safety concerns by adopting uniform national policies given America's patchwork of lax gun laws and background check loopholes. Changes to corporate policies represent an important step toward a shift away from a culture of gun violence toward one where the right to bear arms is balanced with the responsibility to do so safely. And these policy changes mean moms can reasonably expect to take our children to stores and restaurants without the fear of being confronted by people who may have a criminal record carrying loaded semiautomatic rifles in public.

Corporate policies have long been a target for advocates and activists to create change. Campaigns aimed at corporations were famously used by the campaign for civil rights in the U.S. and in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. More recently, LGBT activists successfully targeted companies that either opposed gay marriage or were silent on the topic, resulting in an increase in public support of their cause.

When laws fail to protect our children and families from dangerous or unacceptable behavior, corporate policies can. So until our leaders finally stand up to the gun lobby and require background checks on every gun sale in this country, moms will demand that businesses act in the interest of the majority of their customers who support common sense when it comes to guns.

Parents want peace of mind. We deserve to raise our children in a nation with sensible gun laws and a responsible gun culture. It will take time, but we are in this for the long run. And we know that legislation alone will not fix this epidemic.

These kinds of corporate policy changes build momentum and, combined with wins in statehouses across the country, result in change that Congress can't ignore indefinitely.

Shannon Watts is the mother of five children and the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a part of Everytown for Gun Safety. Follow her on Twitter @shannonrwatts.