When you come into a restaurant, it’s OK to bring baby wipes, a newspaper, hey, maybe even some concealed breath mints, but please, leave your guns behind.
That’s the message increasingly being sent out by restaurant chains and other consumer businesses, the latest example being Panera Bread.
“We're simply respectfully requesting that people leave their guns at home," Panera CEO Ron Shaich said in a phone interview with CNBC Monday. “We are building communities in our cafes and are where people come to catch a breath,” he said.
The move is the latest indication of how gun-rights politics has moved uncomfortably into eateries and other public places.
Gun-rights enthusiasts have sought to celebrate “open-carry” firearm laws by walking into businesses like Target and Starbucks with guns strapped to their belt or back. Not all the patrons feel comfortable with that – a point Mr. Shaich made when he described the move as a request to make the restaurant chain “an everyday oasis and not make this a battleground for political opinion.”
The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America thanked Panera for the new policy covering some 1,800 bakery-cafés in 40 states, saying the move “comes after months of discussions between Moms Demand Action and Panera.”
The group is also urging Kroger, a major operator of grocery and other retail stores across the US (including Ralph’s and Fred Meyer) to take similar action. Starbucks, Target, and Chipotle have announced similar policies over the past year designed to make their establishments gun free.
A catch: The policies are hard to enforce. Companies like Panera say it’s not fair to ask their employees to try to usher pistol-packing citizens out of their doors. Shaich framed the policy as a respectful request.
Similarly, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said last year that the coffee vendor’s policy is not an outright ban.
“We want to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect our request,” he wrote in a open letter, adding that “enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on.”
Panera’s action may be aimed at keeping the restaurants free of gun politics, but the announcement prompted a predictable flare of protests as well as praise. Even as many Americans thanked the chain via Facebook or Twitter, many gun-rights advocates called Panera’s move unnecessary.
Some said they’ll boycott the chain. Others said they’ll make a point of eating at Panera frequently – with a visible firearm as a protest prop.
At the same time, not all gun-rights supporters are fans of “open carry” and of efforts to flaunt the public display of guns.
An editorial last fall in the Beaumont Enterprise, in Texas, called the 1995 legalization of concealed carrying of guns in the state “a long overdue affirmation of the Second Amendment,” but took a stand against open carry.
“When you see a civilian walking down the street or entering a store with an exposed gun, you don't know if that person is just showing off his hardware or planning to commit a crime. It's unsettling to many civilians, and it presents a special threat to law enforcement.”