Chipotle fans, better keep your guards down before you step in for a burrito. After Starbucks and Jack in the Box, Chipotle Mexican Grill has become the third food and beverage chain to ask customers to not bring in loaded guns. The Denver-based company’s decision came after an open demonstration by gun advocates in one of its stores. However, the chain has clarified that there is no ban on carrying guns as such, unless specified by the local laws. Other restaurant chains are following suit after similar displays in their stores, and are requesting that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms into their dining areas.
A few days ago, representatives of gun-rights activist group Open Carry Texas posed for photographs carrying “military-style” assault rifles inside and outside the store’s Dallas franchise. Gun-reform group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America condemned this blatant demonstration over social media and circulated a “Burritos, Not Bullets” petition, forcing Chipotle to come out with a response: “We are respectfully asking that customers not bring guns into our restaurants, unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”
Chipotle has always stressed that it complies with local laws regarding gun regulations, but the display of firearms in restaurants has created an environment that is potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for customers.
Carrying a licensed gun or rifle is legal in several states. Texas state law permits openly carrying rifles only (no handguns). But regulations aside, some businesses can exercise their right to ban firearms, if the need arises.
The Moms Demand Action group has praised the company’s decision. “Moms are grateful to Chipotle for taking quick action today to stand up for the safety and security of our families,” says founder Shannon Watts. “Chipotle’s statement that firearms are not welcome in their restaurants is bold and meaningful — it shows that you can support the Second Amendment while also taking reasonable measures to ensure that Americans are safe and secure in the places we take our children.”
In a correspondence with one of the customers, Chipotle has confirmed that guns are not outrightly banned in the stores and the company will be complying with local regulations.
C.J. Grisham, founder of Open Carry Texas, has defended the group’s actions, “We don’t go there just to carry guns into a restaurant. We always let the manager know we’re coming. We try very hard to make people feel comfortable.” He says that members went to the store not for a demonstration, but to grab a meal following an event.
According to Grisham, the group’s policy is to send an unarmed person into a restaurant to seek prior permission to dine and also warn staff and customers beforehand that members with weapons are to arrive.
Member Alex Clark, who attended the lunch, denied that the group’s actions intimidated anyone in the store. We got there, and nobody gave us any strange looks or asked us why were there,” says Clark. “They just welcomed us in, and we ate lunch.” He also clarifies that the members who attended lunch at Chipotle recently were unrelated to Open Carry Tarrant County who staged a protest at a Jack in the Box store in Fort Worth. (Citing clear violation of bylaws, Open Carry Texas, the state wide organization, has since cut all ties with Open Carry Tarrant County chapter.)
Though Chipotle may not be favored by devout gun owners anymore, experts predict that this will not have much impact on business due to the company’s strong foothold. Like Starbucks, Chipotle does not wish to be dragged into any political controversy. The company clearly states: “…this issue is not central to the operation of our business, and we do not feel that our restaurants should be used as a platform for either side of the debate.”
As pro-gun activists come up with similar firearm displays to showcase their Second Amendment rights, food chains are following Chipotle’s path. In two recent incidents, Chili’s Grill & Bar and Sonic denied service to members of the San Antonio chapter of Open Carry Texas who openly brandished rifles at the food chains’ stores. Apart from drawing flak from customers who witnessed the displays, these demonstrations have also been criticized by the staunch pro-gun National Rifle Association who has called these public displays of loaded weapons in restaurants “weird,” “scary,” “counter-productive” and “downright foolishness.” Several Applebee’s franchises have put up “no guns” signs, and last year, a man was arrested for displaying firearms to Wendy’s employees in Pennsylvania.
Chili’s and Sonic have enforced a no-guns policy. In a statement, Ashley Johnson, Chili’s spokeswoman, said, “We recognize that the open carry of firearms in restaurants creates an uncomfortable atmosphere and is not permitted under many local liquor laws. So, we kindly ask that guests refrain from openly carrying firearms into our restaurants and we will continue to follow state and local laws on this issue.” Similarly, a spokesperson for Sonic has confirmed that “franchises will prohibit guns on all properties, but that they will refer to local laws if they see guns inside cars at drive-ins.”