Chipotle: Mixing guns and burritos is 'intimidating,' so please disarm

The Chipotle chain, in a policy change, asks customers 'not to bring guns into our restaurants.' More corporations are being prodded to articulate their positions, as gun control activists counter moves by more states to allow 'open carry.'

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File
The sign of a Chipotle restaurant is pictured in Pasadena, Calif., 2012.

The national Chipotle burrito chain is asking gun owners not to bring "intimidating" high-powered rifles into its restaurants, saying such firearms make other customers “uncomfortable.” 

That public request appears to have made Chipotle "uncomfortable," as well. It comes at a time when more states are expanding the list of public places where gun owners can carry their weapons, but also as some corporate giants report that some customers feel unnerved, even terrified, by the sight of guns in public. 

Chipotle had previously said its policy was to abide by local laws so as not to force its employees to ask armed people to leave. The firm, with 1,600 restaurants across the US, changed course after gun rights activists posted photos on Facebook of Open Carry Texas activists lugging large rifles into a Chipotle restaurant in Texas.

In a message posted on its website late Monday, Chipotle seemed to struggle with the lose-lose proposition faced by a growing list of companies, including Facebook, Starbucks, and Jack in the Box. Anything that resembles a gun ban risks offending the sizable cohort of gun owners and Second Amendment fans, whereas allowing customers to openly carry guns brings criticism, online and off, from groups like Moms Demand Action, which is funded by avid gun foe and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Moms Demand Action, in fact, had pressured Chipotle to take a public stand against "open carry" in its restaurants.

“The issue of gun ownership or gun rights has become one of the most contentious debates in the country,” the message from Chipotle read. “Recently participants from an ‘open carry’ demonstration in Texas brought guns (including military-style assualt rifles) into one of our restaurants, causing many of our customers anxiety and discomfort.” Hence, company officials wrote, “we are respectfully asking that customers not bring guns into our restaurants, unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”

Gun control activists cast the Chipotle decision as a victory.

“Chipotle’s statement that firearms are not welcome in their restaurants is bold and meaningful – it shows that you can support the Second Amendment while also taking reasponable measures to ensure that Americans are safe and secure in the places we take our children,” said Shannon Watts, Moms Demand Action founder, in a statement.

At the same time, debate is heated within the gun rights community about whether displays of legal heavy weaponry in family restaurants help the open carry cause – or whether gun owners are shooting themselves in the foot.

“FACT: … [O]pen carriers have triggered more gun bans than [Michael Bloomberg],” tweeted Bob Owens, editor of the gun rights blog

“The issue I have here is one of strategy,” Ace of Spades blogger John Ekdahl has written about such displays. “I think even people who are inclined to support expanding gun rights would be turned off by the sight of a bunch of people walking around with rifles” inside family-oriented stores.

Groups such as Moms Demand Action are likely to continue to try to bring attention to corporations' gun policies. The Chipotle decision, analysts say, may spur further campaigns to prod corporations to stake out ground on publicly displayed guns and whether they should become part of everyday life for Americans.

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