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For nearly two decades, Levi Strauss has made blue jeans that are worn by millions of people worldwide, but that might change after the company's recent amendment of its firearm policy.
Chip Bergh, president and CEO of Levi Strauss, wrote an open letter on social media platform LinkedIn explaining that guns have no place in his stores, especially in light of recent terror attacks:
The debate in the U.S. over gun safety and gun rights is as complex as it is divisive. As a former army officer, a father and business leader, I’ve heard the arguments from all sides. And, as CEO of a 163-year-old company whose products and presence rest at the intersection of culture and community in more than 110 countries around the world, I feel a tremendous responsibility to share our position on the issue, now, at a time when clarity is paramount.
Providing a safe environment to work and shop is a top priority for us at Levi Strauss & Co. That imperative is quickly challenged, however, when a weapon is carried into one of our stores. Recently, we had an incident in one of our stores where a gun inadvertently went off, injuring the customer who was carrying it."
Bergh tried to remain neutral, adding that the company understands “both sides” of the gun debate in the U.S., but ultimately, he said, their main priority is the safety of both employees and customers:
"...we respectfully ask people not to bring firearms into our stores, offices or facilities, even in states where it’s permitted by law. Of course, authorized members of law enforcement are an exception.
With stores in Paris, Nice and Orlando, and the company’s European headquarters in Brussels, I’ve thought more about safety in the past year than in the previous three decades of my career because of how ‘close to home’ so many incidents with guns have come to impacting people working for this company."
He went on to say that it was a simple request from Levi Strauss, not a mandate, but asked people to “respect” the company's position.
Like any other opinion surrounding guns in America, it was quickly met with responses of both praise and criticism.
Dwight Rich said he's been a Levi's customer for a long while and respects the company's decision, but will now shop elsewhere:
“I'll be giving my business to Lucky Jeans going forward and you are struck off my list. I believe in safety, as well. A Gun Free Zone does not constitute safety... but you haven't figured that out yet. Let's hope you don't figure out the hard way, because lawful carriers are the least of your worries. Your ignorance is much more dangerous.”
Casey Galt Kawner completely agreed:
"Well, it's a free market request. I have a free market response: No more Levi Strauss & Co products in my closet.
I carry a pistol, hidden inside the waistband in a holster designed to safely do so. If I'm not allowed to try on pants with my daily accoutrements at their stores, then I'll try on someone else's pants."
That said, people like Charlie McKeon Jr. are thankful Levi Strauss took a step in keeping people “safe”:
“Thanks for the gun-free policy statement to keep Levi's employees and customers safe.”
Judy Bianca is a loyal customer and said she'll continue to be:
“A big thank you to Levi Strauss in support of their no gun policy. Always loved your jeans and jackets. Love them more now!!!”
In an interview with Fortune, Bergh said he “consulted” with Starbucks before writing his letter, the same company that requested customers come to their coffee shops without firearms in 2013.
Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman, president, and chief executive officer, made the call three years ago after a slew of mass shootings, but his decision was met with reactions similar to those Levi Strauss is now getting.
Bergh, a former U.S. Army captain who doesn't currently own a gun, said the new firearm policy isn't meant to disrespect gun owners by being an outright ban, rather just the opposite, a request:
“The way to do this is with respect for gun owners."
The 59-year-old added that he expected the backlash, but remains firm in his decision.