Smith’s stores in Utah will stop carrying magazines about ‘assault rifles’

The chain’s parent company, Kroger, is removing some magazine titles in wake of Florida school shooting.

(Sean P. Means | The Salt Lake Tribune) Magazines featuring guns fill part of a news rack at a Smith's Food and Drug store in the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City. The Kroger supermarket chain, which operates Smith's stores in Utah, has announced it will phase out magazines about "assault rifles" from its shelves.

A Utah gun-rights advocate is criticizing a move by a national supermarket chain — which operates Smith’s Food and Drug stores across Utah — to take magazines featuring so-called “assault rifles” off its news racks.

“It’s an ill-conceived idea to restrict the First Amendment,” Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said Monday.

The Kroger supermarket chain, based in Cincinnati, announced last week it would begin removing magazines that tout “assault rifles” from its nearly 2,800 grocery stores nationwide. The chain operates 51 Smith’s and City Market food stores in Utah.

“There’s been nothing shown that the reading of such magazines contributes to any illegal behavior,” Aposhian said. “Are they going to restrict hot rod magazines as well, because of all the accidents that cars cause? Are they going to restrict magazines that happen to have advertisements for liquor in them?”

A spokesperson for Kroger did not respond to requests from The Salt Lake Tribune to clarify which magazines will be pulled from newsstands, or when. A report in USA Today listed such titles as Guns & Ammo, Recoil and Tactical Life, which have featured assault-style weapons on their covers.

“We regularly review the company’s assortment of periodicals and make merchandising decisions based on customer preferences,” a Kroger spokeswoman told USA Today.

Steve Gunn, a member of the board of directors of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, said Monday he was “ambivalent” about Kroger’s decision.

“On the one hand, the greater the choice of opinions, the better for our society,” Gunn said. “On the other hand, I don’t like anything that glorifies ownership of these kinds of weapons. … We’re not going to be losing a significant voice from the gun-rights side of the argument if a few of these magazines are not being sold.”

Kroger’s move comes in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people were killed. Surviving students at Stoneman Douglas have kept alive a national dialogue about guns, particularly semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR-15 used at the Florida school.

Earlier this month, Kroger raised the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21. This policy covers the Fred Meyer stores in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska — the only stores in the Kroger chain that sell guns.

Aposhian questioned the Kroger chain’s use of the term “assault rifles.” He prefers the firearms industry’s terms, “sport utility rifle” or “modern sporting rifle,” to describe AR-15s and similar weapons.

“If they use that term,” Aposhian said, “then they’ve already bought into the demonizing rhetoric of the gun-control crowd.”