Albertsons is the latest retailer to join Walmart, Kroger and others in asking customers not to openly carry guns in their stores in a nod to sensitivity over mass shootings in public places.
But Tri-City law enforcement officials say people openly carrying firearms haven’t caused significant conflict in the Mid-Columbia, in stores or elsewhere.
“From my standpoint, there was never a problem in the first place,” said Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond.
Kennewick police Lt. Aaron Clem said it’s common for alarmed citizens to call authorities when they see someone walking with a visible rifle or pistol.
Clem said officers will contact the person carrying the weapon.
It’s legal in Washington state to openly carry weapons in most situations. Officers alert those exercising their Second Amendment rights that they are making other people nervous.
Clem said the situation typically resolves itself.
“It hasn’t created any problem,” he said.
Retailers such as Walmart, Kroger, the parent to Fred Meyer, CVS, Walgreens and others were moved to ask customers not to openly carry weapons following the most recent round of mass shooting incidents, notably last month’s deaths of 22 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
But many other restaurants and businesses, including Starbucks, Costco, Trader Joes and Target, have posted similar requests in recent years.
Washington is open carry state
Washington is considered an open carry friendly state.
The state Attorney General’s site notes no state law directly bans openly carrying a gun.
However, firearms are restricted in some places: Schools, jails, areas used in connection with court proceedings, mental health facilities, restricted parts of airports and establishments classified by the liquor and cannabis board as off-limits to those under the age of 21.
Private businesses may prohibit guns as well.
Gun owners must be 21 or over and must possess a concealed pistol license to carry a loaded handgun in a vehicle.
Prosser incident in 2010
The last major open carry conflict in the Mid-Columbia apparently occurred in 2010 at a Prosser McDonald’s restaurant.
An open carry advocate from western Washington had stopped to use a restroom and was asked to leave because his weapon was visible.
The visitor allegedly told the manager who asked him to leave, “Bring it bitch,” and he was arrested.
He denied making the statement, insisting he only offered the manager a brochure about gun rights. He was charged with a misdemeanor in Benton County District Court but the case was later dismissed.
And last summer, a man carried a loaded gun into the Richland WinCo grocery store and shot a veterinarian at point-blank range.
Matthew D. McQuin, then 46, told police he thought the victim, who escaped serious injury, had been following him and was going to spray him with a chemical, said court documents.
The incident was captured on in-store video.
McQuin is charged with attempted murder but his trial date was delayed while psychologists evaluate his competency.
Franklin County’s Raymond said open carry is a common practice in his jurisdiction. Several people openly carried firearms without incident at the annual Labor Day barbecue at Merrill’s Corner.
“There’s lots of people that open carry,” he said. “If Walmart doesn’t want people to open carry, then they don’t open carry. These are people with common sense.”
Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher said he too could not recall any open carry incidents in the Tri-Cities.
What they’re asking
- Walmart is “respectfully requesting that customers no longer openly carry firearms in our stores or Sam’s Clubs in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted — unless they are authorized law enforcement officers. Read more about Walmart’s move to limit the types of guns and ammunition it sells at corporate.walmart.com
- Kroger Corp., based in Cincinnati, quickly followed its lead, asking customers to no longer openly carry firearms in its stores. The request does not cover law enforcement.
- Albertsons Cos., based in Boise, has also asked customers not to openly carry guns in its stores. Albertsons is parent to Safeway.
- Dick’s Sporting Goods, based in Pittsburgh, Penn., opens its first Tri-City store at Columbia Center in Kennewick on Sept. 20. The company does not allow loaded firearms in their stores.