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Open Carry Controversy: Businesses' New Rock and a Hard Place

Before your company takes a side on a controversial issue, consider these three things.
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Let’s talk guns.

Recently, several large companies have been the staging ground for demonstrations by a gun advocacy group, Open Carry Texas, which has encouraged gun owners to openly carry all manner of guns, including automatic assault rifles, into public stores and restaurants.

After impassioned campaigning by Moms Demand Action, Target last week issued a statement regarding their policy, with CEO John Mulligan saying, “We’ve listened carefully to the nuances of this debate and respect the protected rights of everyone involved. In return, we are asking for help in fulfilling our goal to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for our guests and team members.”

Related: Target Joins the List of Stores Asking Customers to Keep Guns Out

Note that Target did not ban guns outright. Instead, it (rather politely) requested that customers refrain from carrying firearms in stores. Regardless, the “request” was met with instant and passionate objections by gun right advocates, who have called for boycotts and taken fervently to social media.

It is a case of “you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t."

As with any issue that is controversial and divisive by nature, business owners may find themselves in the proverbial crosshairs with the need to develop a company policy addressing their stance. Before you do, consider these three things.

1. Do what is right for your customers. First and foremost, your policy should first consider the customers that depend on your products and services. In the case of Target, the decision to publically address the issue as it did was seeded in an understanding of its consumers, who it felt by and large were intimidated by weapons being carried openly in stores. Just as Target does, you need to understand your core customers, what they want and how they will react to your policy.

Related: What Does Your Company Stand For?

2. Do what is right for your stakeholders. Your company has many stakeholders, including employees, vendors, investors and the community, all of whom depend to some degree on how you manage your business. You need to get buy-in from your stakeholders, and especially your employees who will have to implement new policies.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz understood that restricting guns “would potentially require employees to confront armed customers,” so he also opted to ask gun owners to refrain from bringing weapons to the premises in lieu of an outright ban.

3. Do what is right for your business. Many entrepreneurs often have the inclination to “express” opinions through the actions of their business. It is vital to understand that doing so is part of creating a company culture and can have lasting impacts on everything from recruiting talent to securing growth investment. While it is tempting to pursue advocacy through your business, be sure that it ultimately meets the long-term goals of your company.

Inevitably, business owners will find themselves dealing with special interest groups such as Open Carry Texas at some point and time. Without proper consideration and preparation, these situations can be overwhelming and even intimidating. This is especially true with the open carry issue. Let’s face it, who wants to tell someone with an AK-47 slung over their shoulder that they are not welcome?

In the end, whatever policy you decided to embrace needs to be supported by your customers and executable by all stakeholders.

What other tips do you have for developing policies for controversial issues?  Please share in the comments section below.

Related: 7 Steps to Keep Employees Safe In The Workplace