How the New Texas Open Carry Law Affects Restaurants

Photo credit: Teknorat via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: Teknorat via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

As of January 1, 2016, a new Texas law, the “Open Carry” law, HB 910,  went into effect allowing licensed handgun owners in Texas to carry their handguns openly displayed in public.  For the general public this may raise some concerns, as it is now a possibility to see someone legally and openly carrying a handgun—holstered at their shoulder or cowboy style at their hip—out in public.  Businesses who engage regularly with the public, including restaurants, will need to consider how they will handle this change.  How will the possibility of encountering a patron carrying a handgun, in plain sight, affect a restaurant’s atmosphere and clientele?  And how will restaurant ownership and management respond to these adjustments?

Open Carry Elsewhere

While it is new to Texas, open carry is not new to the United States.  At the time of this writing, 25 states allow open carry without any form of permit or license at all; 15 states allow open carry with a license or permit (often the same license or permit that allows concealed carry); and 5 states, while often placing significant restrictions on open carry, do not outright prohibit open carry in general.

That’s a total of 45 states out of the 50 United States which allow some form of open carry.  

Will this even be a big issue for restaurants or businesses?

According to the most recent information available from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the number of active concealed handgun license holders in Texas is 825,957 with 3,125 certified instructors.  With Texas’ population of about 27 million, this means roughly 3% of Texans are licensed to carry a concealed handgun—and, for the record, as of January 1, 2016 Texans with this license will be allowed to carry their handgun openly without being required to take additional training to do so.

But, although licensed, it’s safe to assume that not every concealed handgun licensee will be carrying a handgun all the time, and not everybody who is licensed to carry a handgun will prefer to carry it openly.

So, there’s a very real possibility that the issue is not as big as it may seem at first.  But, regardless of how big the issue is or how big it seems, the fact remains that the issue is there, and it’s something for which restaurants and businesses will need a response.

Potential unease for customers

This is an obvious statement, but it’s important to state and restate: restaurant management should consider their customers.  We here at QSROnline ran a survey about the new open carry law in Texas.

opencarry

The results show that, while 42.8% said “yes” to being comfortable visiting a restaurant that allows open carry, 40.3% said “no” to being comfortable in any restaurant at all which allows open carry, with another 16.8% responding “no” to being comfortable in restaurants which allow open carry if they serve alcohol.

That’s up to 57.1% of those surveyed who responded they would feel uncomfortable in an open carry situation in a restaurant.  Clearly, this is a number of customers restaurants cannot ignore.

What other restaurants are doing

According to an article on HuffPost Business, (of the Huffington Post), some restaurants, with locations in Texas and elsewhere, have been open about their plans regarding open carry.  Whataburger, for example, has openly stated they will be continuing their practice of not allowing open carry in their restaurants, but will continue to allow concealed carry; the company stressed that this was a business decision and not a political one.

Other restaurants, such as Chipotle, Panera Bread, Sonic, and Chili’s, just as examples, are taking a similar approach.  In recognizing that openly carried firearms present a potentially uncomfortable situation for their customers, such restaurants are asking customers to not openly carry firearms in their establishments.

On the flipside, there are some restaurants which will allow open carry in their establishments.  According to a web article on Houstonia Magazine, a news, entertainment, and information source based in Houston, TX, a publicly-viewable spreadsheet of Houston businesses records the efforts of Kyle Nielson (@kylejack on Twitter) to get definitive statements from Houston businesses on their open carry policies.

The spreadsheet reveals that, while most businesses and restaurants will disallow open carry, some places, such as Brooks’ Place and Corkscrew BBQ, will allow open carry.  And still other restaurants may take the approach that Houston’s El Tiempo restaurants are taking, which is to not post any 30.07 signs (signs which legally restrict open carry on the premises) for the time being, but continue to investigate their options.

A restaurant’s options

Regardless of any other aspect of the new law, open carry presents a business decision each restaurant must make.  What are a restaurant’s options?

There are two forms of carrying handguns: concealed carry, and open carry, and for these there are two separate signs: a 30.06 sign and a 30.07 sign, that can be used to legally restrict the carrying of firearms, either concealed, or openly carried, respectively, on any establishment’s premises.

The signs are named after their respective penal code sections.  A 30.06 sign will disallow customers from carrying a concealed handgun on a restaurant’s premises, and a 30.07 sign will disallow customers from openly carrying handguns on a restaurant’s premises.

Through a combination of clearly displaying one, both, or neither of these signs, any restaurant can choose to allow or disallow either form of carrying firearms, or both or them, or neither of them.

There is also the aptly named 51% sign, which some places, like bars, are required to use if at least 51% of their revenue comes from on-premises consumption of alcohol.  The 51% sign disallows any firearm, regardless of concealment or open carry, on the premises.

51% signs can only be obtained in Texas by an establishment by contacting that establishment’s local TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission) office, but 30.06 and 30.07 signs can be purchased ready made from various outlets, such as MySecuritySign.com and even Amazon.com.

Or, a restaurant can make and display their own 30.06 and/or 30.07 signs.  However, note that there are legal specifications which both of these signs must meet in order to be considered legally binding.  If these signs do not meet these specifications, they will not be considered legally valid.

The specifications can be found in the penal code here, but the gist is this:

  • The sign must have exact wording as outlined in the penal code.
  • The sign must have block letters 1 inch in height.
  • The sign’s lettering must contrast with the sign’s background color.
  • The sign must be displayed in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public at each entrance to the property.

And, of course, as mentioned earlier, 30.06 and 30.07 signs which meet these specifications can be bought from various places.  Just do an online search or check around locally.

(By the way—and this is not an advertisement—if you choose to go with Amazon.com, use their AmazonSmile program which lets you support a charity of your choice when you shop, at no extra cost to you.  It’s just a nice thing to do!)

On the fence about it?

If you’re a restaurant owner or restaurant manager in Texas and you’re currently on the fence about what course of action to take, consider running a survey.  Ask your customers how they feel about the open carry law and whether they’d be comfortable in your restaurant if your restaurant allowed it, and also ask if they’d feel more comfortable if your restaurant disallowed open carry.  This will give you a very important metric in making your decision.

Also, ask your employees!  These are the people who drive your restaurant forward every single day, and they will be the ones most likely to face the effects of the open carry law on a regular basis.  Their comfort and their opinions in this situation are very important—so much so that it cannot be overstated: your employee’s satisfaction is directly related to your customers’ satisfaction.  Make sure your employees have a say in this decision.  When you ask your employees about this new open carry law, let them respond anonymously to preserve their privacy and to encourage honesty (as they will not have to stress about others they work with knowing their take on the new law if they don’t want to share it).

Lastly, take a look at the resources below for detailed information about the things we’ve discussed in this article.  You may be able to use the information you’ll find there and the information you get from surveying your customers and employees to make an informed decision.

Resources

  1. The “Open Carry” law, HB 910: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/84R/billtext/pdf/HB00910F.pdf
  2. Texas Department of Public Safety PDF on Concealed Handgun Licensing: http://dps.texas.gov/rsd/chl/reports/ActLicAndInstr/ActiveLicandInstr2014.pdf
  3. United States Census Bureau – Texas 2015 Population Estimate: http://www.census.gov/search-results.html?q=population+of+texas&search.x=0&search.y=0&search=submit&page=1&stateGeo=none&searchtype=web&cssp=SERP
  4. How do Texans really feel about the new Open Carry law?  http://blog.qsronline.com/open-carry-texas/
  5. 7 Companies That Don’t Want Guns In Their Stores: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/16/open-carry-guns-restaurants-companies_n_7802468.html
  6. Whataburger Addresses Open Carry Policy: http://whataburger.com/company/pressreleasedetail/whataburger-addresses-open-carry-policy
  7. Here’s a List of the Houston Restaurants and Grocery Stores Allowing Open Carry: http://www.houstoniamag.com/articles/2015/12/30/here-s-a-list-of-the-houston-restaurants-and-grocery-stores-allowing-open-carry
  8. Houston Open carry Policy in Restaurants & Grocery Stores: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1h9sHI_HXr9AAKTkYXTi7BOLSeEKE4qieyaDyY3Jx5dw/edit#gid=0
  9. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Local Field Offices: https://www.tabc.state.tx.us/contact_us/local_field_office.asp
  10. Purchase 30.06 and/or 30.07 signs (MySecuritySign.com): http://www.mysecuritysign.com/
  11. Purchase 30.06 and/or 30.07 signs (Amazon.com): http://smile.amazon.com/
  12. Penal Code, Title 7, Chapter 30: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.30.htm
  13. AmazonSmile program: http://smile.amazon.com/gp/chpf/about/ref=smi_aas_redirect?ie=UTF8&ref_=smi_ge_ul_lm_raas
  14. Open Carry Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_carry_in_the_United_States