After open carry went into effect in Texas on January 1, some businesses were inconvenienced by the size of the signs they had to put up, and other businesses were inconvenienced by the fact that they were forced to choose a side in a culture war when they mostly just wanted to sell hamburgers. But one corporation decided to punt the inconvenience over to a particular subset: its store employees. At Walmart, the official company policy regarding open carry is that customers are allowed to bring visible handguns into the store, but that store staff are responsible for verifying that the customer has a proper license for the weapon.
If you’re curious just how that works out for everybody involved, check out this video, posted by Open Carry Texas, of an encounter at the Walmart in Devine between an openly carrying patron and an employee who requests his license.
Now, Aaron Darby—the man in the video—is right about one thing: Walmart doesn’t need to verify his permit in order to avoid jeopardizing their liquor license. That’s an extra precaution the store elected to take. But Darby is wrong about something more important: He has no right to walk through a Walmart with a gun if a store manager tells him to either produce a permit or leave the store until he’s no longer armed. Although police require probable cause to stop a person and demand to see a permit, a business owner is under no such restriction.
Walmart doesn’t post 30.07 signs by its doors that would make open carry in the store a crime. But even without those signs, a business owner can still tell a customer “you’re not welcome here if you have a gun,” and if the customer refuses to leave, that’s trespassing. Your rights are different when you’re on private property than they are when you’re walking down the street.
Darby, it seems, failed to understand that, talking to the Walmart employee as though she’s a police officer violating his rights. “I’m not required by law to show you a license for anything,” he declares—but he is required to leave the store after she tells him that he has to secure the gun in his car. At that point, he’s not violating Texas gun laws—he’s just trespassing.
It’s a little weird that a group as passionate about individual rights as Open Carry Texas seems to fundamentally misunderstand how private property works, but the video, which runs nearly four minutes, involves a lot of Darby incorrectly explaining Texas law to the manager.
Darby may consider himself a law-abiding gun owner, but one thing the video makes clear is that that term is complicated. In the video, he does eventually leave the store—and according to reports, he later returned after police arrived to show his permit, and continued shopping—but the time between being asked to show his permit or leave and refusing to do so is time he spends breaking the law. That doesn’t change even if he’s convinced that he’s constitutionally guaranteed the right to shop in a store with a gun at his side against the manager’s wishes. (Walmart similarly doesn’t have to post a sign in inch-tall letters declaring that all customers must wear pants in order to ask someone who enters the store in his boxers to leave.)
Open carry enthusiasts tend to be well-versed in what the law allows them to do and what sort of demands police can make of them, which may be the source of Darby’s confusion. That doesn’t absolve him of his responsibility in knowing what the law requires of him when he’s on somebody else’s property—but it does suggest that the ultimate blame for the way the encounter went down lies on Walmart’s policy. Every business in Texas has had to choose a side on the issue of open carry—either they allow it and risk alienating customers who would rather not shop or eat while people have guns out, or they ban it and risk alienating customers who don’t want to give their money to a business that doesn’t let them bring their gun inside. Walmart attempts to have it both ways, though, and that puts an onerous burden on people who aren’t trained or equipped for encounters with armed (and potentially hostile) people who are under the impression that they’re being oppressed.
Walmart, in attempting to avoid alienating the portion of their customer base that makes decisions about where to shop based on open carry policy, just shifts the burden of alienating those people directly onto store employees who definitely aren’t paid enough to deal with that—and it does it in an environment where they’re not just getting angry tweets, but where they’re actually getting yelled at by a person who has a gun. That’s a bad policy, no matter how you slice it.