On February 21, a group of armed men walked into a bacon-themed restaurant called Bacon in Boise, Idaho. It wasn’t a stick-up—it was a group of Three Percenters, a right-wing militia group that counts a state representative named Chad Christensen among its ranks of supporters. After the owner of the bistro cordoned the men off in a curtained area, the lawmaker called for a boycott in a public Facebook post.
"Bacon restaurant is NOT gun friendly...I won't be stepping foot in that place again," Christensen wrote. "I have no qualms about sharing this. As a business owner, if you have a problem with guns in Idaho... I am going to use my reach to let as many people as I can know about it."
The owner, John Berryhill, told the Idaho Statesman that he was considering banning the open carry of guns inside Bacon, which would place his among the first places to make that change in 2019. But since the August 3 shooting in El Paso, Texas, that killed 22 people, much bigger businesses have gone even further to discourage people from walking around wielding weapons in their stores.
A gun control group has been pestering the grocery chain Kroger to ban the practice in 2014, and on Tuesday corporate brass announced they were finally asking people not openly carry guns into their stores. In addition, Walmart officials said Wednesday that they were discouraging open carry in their stores, and were also ending the sales of ammunition that could be used in handguns; further, the retailer was banning handgun sales in Alaska, the only state where it still sold such guns. On Thursday, CVS, Wegman's, and Walgreen's announced they didn't want customers to open carry either.
While Donald Trump and congressional Republicans remain unlikely to enact even minor gun control measures at a federal level—in part because of the influence of pro-gun advocates like Christensen—businesses around the U.S. are responding to shifting public opinion on guns by moving to restrict where they can be carried.
This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. Target explicitly banned open carry in its stores in 2014, said Kristen Ellingboe of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, and a litany of other companies such as Chili’s, Starbucks, and Chipotle have since followed suit. But what’s happening here seems to be different. Target hasn’t even sold life-like toy guns since the early 90s, and places like Whataburger, which stopped serving gun-toting patrons 2015, wasn't particularly connected to gun culture. But Walmart, which was the site of the El Paso shooting, is one of the country's biggest gun retailers and has had a strong connection to gun culture. (Dick's Sporting Goods is another major gun seller considering moving away from firearm sales.) It’s a rare move for a CEO to stop engaging in a legal form of commerce, and one that the head of Visa has famously said he feels he has no right making. (Credit card companies and banks have stayed out of the gun debate by refusing to flag massive gun purchases to authorities.)
"It’s disappointing that companies are being forced to act because our elected officials won't," Ellingboe said. "I think Walmart and the other companies who spoke out before them see where the American people are on this issue and understand that a majority of people want to see action. Unfortunately, our federal elected officials still seem to be beholden to the gun lobby."
This post was updated on Thursday after additional businesses said they wanted to discourage open carry.
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