Texas-based Whataburger is asking customers not to openly carry guns in its restaurants.
In June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation that lets Texans with licenses wear handguns in plain sight – in a hip or shoulder holster. The law is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2016. Business owners and private property owners, however, are able to tell people to leave their guns at home.
Whataburger released a statement last week saying that while it supports customers’ Second Amendment rights, it’s considering how open carry affects its customers and 34,000 employees.
Whataburger says it hasn't allowed people to openly carry guns "for a long time," saying it's a business decision "made a long time ago."
“We’re the gathering spot for Little League teams, church groups and high school kids after football games,” Preston Atkinson, Whataburger’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “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.”
The company says it has not prohibited customers with licenses from bringing in concealed guns.
Last summer, various businesses generated national attention for asking customers to leave guns at home. Target said it wanted a “safe and inviting” atmosphere for shoppers and workers. Chipotle and Chili’s also issued similar requests.
Customers have mixed reactions
People are sounding off on Whataburger’s Facebook page:
Against Whataburger’s decision
“If you really loved this country, you'd respect how it was founded and let law abiding citizens carry their guns inside your business,” one person wrote. “But I recently saw that you guys became dumb enough to believe that you somehow made your place safer from criminals by having absolutely no protection against them except the one (cops) that's minutes away when you could be dead or robbed in seconds. Smart move! It's a shame because you guys do have good food but I will no longer be going there.”
Another person wrote: “Good job. By announcing that customers will be unarmed will raise the chances of one of your stores will be robbed, thus putting customers in even more danger.”
Supporters of the decision
One person wrote: “Thank you Whataburger, now when I come through Texas for the family reunion I'll know there's a safe place to eat.”
And another person wrote on Whataburger’s Facebook page: “It's a GREAT move!! and you can still [conceal] carry. Why do you need to flaunt your firearm? it's just rude.”
'Going back to the old West'
KERA caught up with some North Texas customers enjoying their Whataburger lunches.
Jerry McGuire is a Dallas gun owner, but he says the chain's move makes sense.
"I think that open carry anywhere is going to have a lot of issues," McGuire said. "Keeping it concealed and tucked away is one thing, but to have it out, I think that’s a negative thing and I believe it’s gonna be like going back to the old West."
In Arlington, customer John McKnight said it’s about fairness.
"Open carry is a form of bullying," McKnight said. "Yeah, you want to protect your rights but why do you need to show it to me? Going down the street like me as an African-American man I can’t walk down the streets and I’m former law enforcement."
Open Carry Texas: Whataburger 'caving to the brainwashing'
Open Carry Texas, a group that supports the effort to let people openly carry their guns, posted the following note on its Facebook page:
“There is a lot that Whataburger doesn't seem to understand about this issue. 1) Open carry in Texas is only 'legal' with a concealed handgun license and licensees comprise the most law abiding segment of society in Texas. 2) They are telling their customers that the only people that can be trusted with guns is the government, the entire antithesis of why we have the right to keep and bear arms.”
Open Carry Texas also said: “By mentioning ‘Little League teams, church groups and high school kids’ as a reason behind why open carry should be banned in their stores, the suggestion is made that somehow the guns become a different animal when they are around these groups. There is no difference between them and any other part of society. …
“What Whataburger is doing is caving to the brainwashing and social engineering that the anti-gun crowd has successfully worked to accomplish over the past few decades in their efforts to shame gun ownership and guns in public.”
Texas Carry: People who are upset should 'take a step back'
Tov Henderson, communications director for Texas Carry, a group separate from Open Carry Texas, told KERA he understands Whataburger's decision.
"Any business that either puts up a sign or says or asks us not to do something on their private property, I respect that because there's nothing more than our own personal domain or private property," Henderson said. "Everyone who's upset about the statement really needs to take a step back."
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Henderson as a spokesman for Open Carry Texas. He is communications director for Texas Carry, which is a separate group.