Florida business thinks ‘open carry’ misfires


The legislator proposing a law that would allow Floridians to openly display firearms in public says that it’s a right granted by God.

But the real issue is whether it will be a right granted by Florida’s businesses.

When you peel away all the theological quackery and questionable statistical rationale, what really matters is this: Who wants to shop, dine or watch a movie next to free-range Floridians peacocking their loaded weapons in plain sight?

Many businesses in Florida already don’t want the 1.4 million Floridians with concealed-weapons permits to bring their invisible weapons into their establishments. So it’s hard to imagine that these businesses will now embrace a visual display of deadly force among their clientele.

There was a “no weapons” sign on the door of the Grove 16 theaters near Tampa last year when 71-year-old moviegoer Curtis Reeves, a legal owner of a concealed weapon, shot and killed another theatergoer, Chad Oulson, 43, when a dispute over the man’s use of a cellphone during the previews escalated into popcorn throwing. Reeves faces a murder trial in January.

The theater, part of the Cobb Theatre chain, has a written zero-tolerance policy on patrons bringing their weapons, even when they’re legally owned, into the building. So do many other businesses, which have the right to deny service to anyone, as long as that denial isn’t based on race, color, religion, national origin or disability.

The practical result of open-carry laws is that they make gun enthusiasts realize just how unpopular their firearm fetish is to the majority of the public.

Texas is getting a taste of that now. This summer, Texas passed an open-carry gun law, which prompted businesses there to issue statements telling potential customers that they wouldn’t be welcome to show up with their firearms.

“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,” said Preston Atkinson, the president of the Whataburger restaurant chain. “We have a responsibility to make sure everyone who walks into our restaurants feels comfortable. For that reason, we don’t restrict licensed concealed carry but do ask customers not to open carry in our restaurants.”

Other restaurants including Starbucks, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Chili’s and Sonic delivered similar messages to gun owners.

So did the department store Target last year, when customers in open-carry states started showing up in Target stores with visible weapons. “Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target — even in communities where it is permitted by law,” Target’s interim chief executive officer John Mulligan said in a prepared statement.

And Target is far from alone. Here’s a partial list of businesses that have received an “F” grade from Second Amendment Check, a gun-rights group that rates businesses by how friendly they are to having legally armed patrons bring their weapons into their stores and businesses: Walgreens, Waffle House, Costco, Hooters, Simon shopping malls, Outback Steakhouse, California Pizza Kitchen, the National Football League, BB&T Bank, AMC Theatres, Toys R Us., IKEA, Cinemark Theatres, Sterling Jewelers, Whole Foods Market and Buffalo Wild Wings.

It’s hard to imagine how Florida’s tourist-friendly marketing will be helped by images of our George Zimmerman militia parading around in public with their firepower.

With all due respect to Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and his theory of heavenly approval of open carry in Florida, there are some earthly voices he might want to start hearing, too.

© 2015 Cox