More and more Texas businesses are finding themselves pulled into the open carry debate. Some large Texas grocery chains such as HEB have stated that they would be banning open carry in their stores. Restaurants such as barbecue joint Brooks’ Place have welcomed open carrying members of the public with open arms, offering a 25 percent discount on January 1 and a continuing 10 percent discount after that. Other businesses have made no comment, refusing to be involved in the discussion. But as Texas Monthly‘s Dan Solomon explained, there is no longer any neutral ground left on this issue for businesses. Places that don’t explicitly ban open carry on their premises are being asked to do so, or else they’ll lose customers. Places that do ban open carry are being asked to rethink their decision, or else they’ll lose customers. You can see the problem.
Still, some stores such as Walmart continue to see neutrality as simply adjusting their policy to the new law of the land. In December, a few weeks before the implementation of the open carry law, the company sent out notifications and instructions to Texas stores that Walmart employees (including cashiers and greeters) who see shoppers carrying a handgun must alert the highest ranking manager on duty, who will then check to make sure the customer has a valid gun license. But even that decision is dragging innocent employees into the issue.
Walmart has adopted this policy to keep its Supercenters, which sell alcohol, in line with a state code from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Section 11.61(b-2)(e) of the Alcoholic Beverage Code reads:
Except as provided by Subsection (f) or (i), the commission or administrator shall cancel an original or renewal permit if it is found, after notice and hearing, that the permittee knowingly allowed a person to possess a firearm in a building on the licensed premises.
Exceptions to the rule include security officers, police officers, and licensed gun carriers—hence the credential check. Chris Porter, a spokesperson for the TABC, told the Austin American-Statesman that the agency isn’t actually requiring Walmart to check shoppers’ licenses, but they can conduct investigations and revoke licenses “if they learned of a violation.”
Walmart is simply covering its bases, but possibly at the expense of its employees. Brian Nick, Walmart’s senior director of corporate communications, explained that only the highest ranking managers and supervisors would have to have these conversations with customers.
“We would just ask [the shopper] to remove their firearm from the building and put it in their vehicle and allow them to keep shopping,” Nick says.
The hope is that shoppers who refuse to show a license or don’t have one will peacefully leave the premises and remove their firearm, but that may not always be the case. In those cases where conflict might arise, Nick says supervisors would then contact local authorities for assistance.
Although some shoppers think it’s only right that Walmart checks for licenses, it could be a sensitive issue for open carrying shoppers. Figuring out how to balance not infringing on people’s rights while following regulation and checking for valid licenses was still a major concern for law enforcement before the new year. In fact, an earlier version of the open carry bill included a provision that would restrict the ability of police officers to make those checks. Nick says that it’s within Walmart’s rights to ask shoppers to see valid gun licenses in order to comply with the law and TABC’s code, especially since businesses also have the option of banning open carry completely.
It’s a bit of extra work for Walmart personnel that employees at Albertsons and Walgreens—which both allow open carry and sell alcohol, but won’t be checking for licenses—won’t have to deal with. And it’s in stark contrast with stores such as HEB, which only allow concealed carry. The same TABC code still applies for them, but with concealed carry store managers can reasonably claim that they were unaware of gun carrying shoppers.
Even if Walmart is just adjusting to changed laws, their Supercenter employees charged with at the following the new policy might not see things the same. If the cultural debate around open carry is turning into a lose-lose for both sides, this at least makes opting out of open carry seem like a win for a few employees.