On Thursday, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun control group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's considerable financial resources, will blanket half a dozen newspapers with ads meant to pressure the grocery giant to stop allowing customers to openly carry firearms in its stores. The ads will be displayed on the newspapers' websites as well as on a billboard in Cincinnati, where Kroger's corporate headquarters is based, according to the group.
The ads will contrast images of shoppers doing things that are currently prohibited in Kroger's stores -- such as eating ice cream and shopping while shirtless -- with images of people carrying rifles. "Guess which one" isn't allowed at Kroger, the tag line says. (Scroll down for full images of the group's ads.)
This is the first time Moms Demand Action has bought ads as part of one of its campaigns to convince a company to enact a no-open-carry policy. Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, the umbrella group that includes Moms Demand Action, declined to say how much the ads cost, saying only that the amount was in the "six figures."
Moms Demand Action first announced its intention to focus on Kroger two weeks ago, citing several shootings that had happened in or near Kroger stores as the impetus. Kroger has about 2,500 locations in the U.S., and is the nation's largest retailer. In response to the announcement, Kroger initially said that it would continue to follow local gun laws, and argued that asking its employees to enforce a no-gun policy would be impractical and dangerous.
Other companies previously targeted by Moms Demand Action initially made similar statements, before reversing course and requesting that gun owners not bring weapons inside their stores or restaurants. Chipotle, Sonic, Target and Starbucks have all changed their policies in response to the group's demands.
While falling short of outright bans -- which business owners generally say would be impossible to enforce -- these new policies suggest that corporate America may fear the economic might of gun control activists more than supporters of permissive open carry laws. (This calculus, so far, does not apply to Congress, where the National Rifle Association and its lobbyists largely hold sway.)
Moms Demand Action's most effective technique has been to circulate photos taken by people who support the right to openly carry weapons in public. Some of the photos depict people holding large rifles as they wait in line to buy a burrito or order a hamburger. Tensions over this practice have flared up in several states, especially Texas, where openly carrying a handgun in public is banned, but carrying long rifles is not.
The earlier campaigns by Moms Demand Action have largely been waged on Twitter and Facebook, though the group has also staged protests at several stores. The Kroger ad buy represents a significant escalation in terms of both financial commitment and visibility. The ads will run as "homepage takeovers" in the online editions of USA Today, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Columbus Dispatch, the Houston Chronicle, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, according to the group. The ads will also appear in the print editions of several of these papers, as well as The Tennessean.
"These images bring into stark contrast Kroger policies that prohibit skateboards, food and a lack of appropriate attire in stores, but allow the open carry of loaded guns," said Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, in a statement. "Businesses have an obligation to protect their employees and patrons."
Kroger, so far, has rebuffed the group's calls to take its side in the national gun debate.
"We know that our customers are passionate on both sides of this issue and we trust them to be responsible in our stores," spokesman Keith Daily previously told The Huffington Post.