In Cypress, Brooks’ Place (which nabbed itself a 4.25 rating and a spot in our 50 best BBQ joints list in 2013) picked a side this week in the ongoing culture war surrounding the new open carry law. The Houston-area barbecue haven offered a 25 percent discount to customers who stopped by packing on January 1, the first day that the open carry of handguns in Texas was legal. They’ve maintained their celebration of the new gun law by continuing to offer a 10 percent discount to carrying customers into the new year.
Brooks’ Place is a popular, 11 a.m.-’til-they-sell-out trailer that’s more than willing to keep the owner’s politics at the forefront of the spot’s identity. But in the wake of the dramatic expansion of open carry laws in Texas, taking a political stand isn’t just for successful, small-batch restaurants that can happily pick and choose their customers.
Restaurants and other businesses are allowed to opt out of open carry. To do so, they can post signs (a 30.07 sign, in English and Spanish) that explicitly bans openly carried handguns on the property.
The signs businesses in Texas have to put up if they don't want to allow open carry are ENORMOUS pic.twitter.com/u1QUlTfsIN
— Summer Anne Burton (@summeranne) January 3, 2016
There are advantages and disadvantages to doing so. Because of the polarized nature of the gun debate, there are plenty of people who will argue that being allowed to bring their guns makes them feel safer on the premises. On the flip side of that, there are some who will argue that the sight of guns while they’re at a restaurant makes them feel a lot less safe.
Open Carry Texas, one of the organizations that helped spur the Legislature into action on the issue, wants business owners to know that opting out of open carry can carry financial consequences. The group sells 50 packs of cards for supporters of the law to pass out to businesses displaying 30.07 signs to inform management that, because they can’t bring their guns to the store, they won’t be spending money there.
That’s fair, of course—it’s everyone’s right to choose what places will receive their businesses, and it’s also their right to let the people who run those businesses know why. But, from images floating around Facebook, people on the opposite side of the issue have their own cards that remind businesses that they have the right to opt out of open carry.
In other words, the mere existence of the expanded open carry law in Texas means that businesses whose main objective is selling hamburgers or craft supplies has to pick a side: Are they willing to risk alienating the customers who carry the first card, or would they prefer to alienate the customers who carry the second?
There are plenty of lists available that compile the names of businesses who’ve posted 30.07 signs to help consumers make informed decisions about where their guns will be allowed/where they’ll be able to shop or eat without seeing guns on the hips of their fellow patrons.
Those are useful resources, but they also make clear that there’s no opting out of the debate. The website GunFreeBusinesses that launched last week lists places that have yet to post 30.07 signs, encouraging visitors to contact these businesses to urge them to ban open carry on the premises.
Michael's, Mighty Fine, Rudy's, and Loews were places we shopped at. Very sad. https://t.co/DHiWjciSF2
— Aaron de Orive (@adeorive) January 3, 2016
Some of those businesses listed—like Brooks’ Place—are unlikely to do more than laugh and/or sigh when they get those requests. But businesses like Starbucks, Home Depot, Kroger, Lowes, and more are presumably looking for a “neutral” position to take. Kroger, as a corporation, is unlikely to have a strong pro- or anti-gun position—their responsibility to their shareholders, at least, means that selling as many groceries as possible to as many people as possible trumps any urge to make a statement. The same is true of chains like Whataburger, which did post the 30.07 sign, the choice to ban open carry in its stores was about determining which route would better serve the majority of their customers. The company’s CEO wrote this blog post over the summer when then the law was signed:
[A]s a representative of Whataburger, I want you to know we proudly serve the gun rights community. I personally enjoy hunting and also have my concealed carry license, as do others at Whataburger.
From a business standpoint, though, we have to think about how open carry impacts our 34,000+ employees and millions of customers. We serve customers from all walks of life at more than 780 locations, 24 hours a day, in 10 states and we’re known for a family friendly atmosphere that customers have come to expect from us. We’re the gathering spot for Little League teams, church groups and high school kids after football games.
We’ve had many customers and employees tell us they’re uncomfortable being around someone with a visible firearm who is not a member of law enforcement, and as a business, we have to listen and value that feedback in the same way we value yours. We have a responsibility to make sure everyone who walks into our restaurants feels comfortable. For that reason, we don’t restrict licensed concealed carry but do ask customers not to open carry in our restaurants.
That’s a fine statement, but the bottom line is this: In 2016 Texas, with open carry as the law of the land, and businesses required to post big signs in their windows taking a position on it, there’s no way to make sure that everyone who walks into any business feels comfortable as it relates to guns. And though there are a handful of businesses (like Brooks’ Place) that are happy to let the world know where they stand, there are countless others that would rather avoid taking any sort of position on the hot-button cultural issues of the day. It’s just that, in 2016, that’s not possible.