Several of the country's most ubiquitous retail chains said this week that they would ask customers to refrain from carrying guns in their stores. The requests, days after Walmart announced a similar policy, marked a remarkable shift in the debate over the presence of weapons in everyday life in the United States.
In a brief statement on Thursday, CVS Health asked that customers other than authorized law enforcement personnel not bring firearms into their 9,900 stores. Walgreens, with 9,500 stores, did as well. Both chains noted that they went with other dealers. Wegmans, a supermarket chain with 99 stores mainly in the Northeast, noted the request on Twitter.
"The sight of someone with a gun can be alarming, and we don't want anyone to feel it on Wegmans," the tweet said .
As private entities, dealers have the right to restrict guns in their stores. But it remained unclear how they could force customers to comply, and the guidelines were framed as requests, not direct bans. Several other major chains have adopted similar formulated policies in recent years, including Starbucks, Target, Costco and Chipotle.
The latest wave of announcements began on Tuesday, when Walmart, the nation's largest retailer with more than 4,000 stores, said it would stop selling ammunition that can be used in military launchers as well as all small arms ammunition, and that would discourage customers from carrying guns openly, even in states where it is legal to do so.
"We will treat law-abiding customers with respect, and we will have a very non-confrontational approach," Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement.
Just after Walmart's announcement, Kroger, which is headquartered in Cincinnati and operates more than 2,700 supermarkets, also said it asked customers not to bring guns into their stores.
In the statement, Jessica Adelman, Vice President of Business Affairs, noted that Kroger had completely abandoned the firearms and ammunition business. a year ago.
"Kroger has demonstrated with our actions that we recognize the growing chorus of Americans who are no longer comfortable with the status quo and who advocate for gun reform in concrete and common sense," she said.
She said the company would also push lawmakers to strengthen background checks and to "remove weapons from those found to pose a threat to violence."
In his statement, Mr. McMillon said that Walmart decided to change its policy in the wake of the Aug. 3 shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, which left 22 people dead.
He noted that after the shooting, there were several episodes "where individuals who tried to come up with a statement and test our response had come into our stores that had weapons in a way that frightened or worried our employees and customers."  that even some well-intentioned customers had inadvertently caused alarm, triggered evacuations and mobilized law enforcement.
"We believe the ability for someone to interpret a situation, even in open countries, can lead to tragic results," McMillon said.
The Walmart statement noted that there was no change in concealed carry from licensed customers, saying new signs would be posted about the policy in the coming weeks.
Weapons laws vary widely, but more than 40 states allow some form of open carry, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control advocacy group. Some states require special permits or for weapons to be unloaded, or restrict open transport policies in cities. There are often exceptions to the laws on open trade in schools, public facilities or places where alcohol is served.
Shannon Watts, founder of the gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, called open-carry "a dangerous and culturally reprehensible practice" and applauded the companies for taking action.
"Ultimately, this is about getting companies to protect their customers when lawmakers don't protect their constituents," she said in a telephone interview.
Ms. Watts urged lawmakers to take action when they return to Washington, Walmart's statement also asked Congress to step up background checks and consider a new assault weapons ban.
The National Rifle Association strongly criticized Walmart's statement, saying it was "disgraceful to see Walmart succumb to pressure from anti-gun elites."
"Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by lines at other dealerships that are more supportive of US fundamental freedoms," the organization predicted in a statement Tuesday.
N.R.A. Friday, a reporter headed to Tuesday's statement.