Donald Trump’s assertion at Wednesday's Republican presidential debate that “sickos” take advantage of gun-free zones to kill people is complicated, it turns out, by the fact that many of his own hotel properties don’t allow weapons, even if properly permitted.
Given that the remark happened on the fly during a debate – and that Mr. Trump himself, by his own admission, only carries a firearm occasionally – could explain the discrepancy between Trump’s political beliefs and corporate policy at some of the properties that bear his name (as discovered by Reuters’ sleuthing.)
Yet Trump's primer on how Second Amendment rights and safety concerns underscores a difficult and evolving paradox for many US business owners: Retail outlets are wrestling first-hand with increasingly liberalized US gun laws, such as the permit-less “constitutional carry” law that became law this month in Maine.
Starbucks and Chipotle are among several US retail chains that have had to clarify policies when it comes to carrying firearms inside their stores, with some franchise owners asking customers to "please, please do not bring guns inside," and others leaving it to local laws and regulation to set the standard.
This week, a Maine restaurant owner named Michael Rossney provided an example of how small business owners are dealing with the issue, when he banned, via a Facebook post, guns at his two restaurants. The move came in protest of the new constitutional-carry law, which he likened to the state allowing people to drive cars without licenses or insurance.
“It is hard to think that allowing anyone 21 or older (or 18 in some cases) to carry a loaded, concealed firearm is going to make any sort of positive impact on our society,” Mr. Rossney posted on Facebook, reported the Bangor Daily News.
But others in the state have embraced the law. Washington County Town Clerk Ann Dean put a “guns are welcome on premises” sign on her town hall door after the new Maine “constitutional carry” law took effect.
“Gun owners have always been vilified,” she told the Bangor Daily News. “Because you have a gun, you are automatically a bad person. I’m pro-gun. My selectmen were fine.” (Though she ended up taking the sign down after it became a “distraction.”)
Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Kansas also allow concealed handguns without a special permit after previously requiring one. Vermont has never required a permit. New Hampshire passed a law similar to the one in Maine, but it was vetoed by the governor this year.
And in Indianapolis, Art Bouvier, owner of Papa Roux in Indianapolis, earlier this week began offering a 25 percent discount to concealed-carriers. That followed a series of armed robberies at area restaurants, including his own.
The various retail responses come amid a historic number of mass shootings in the US this year, some of which have happened in commercial areas such as malls.
It’s difficult to assess exactly how such liberalized gun-carry laws impact Americans’ everyday lives.
Studies have failed to conclusively prove – or disprove – any correlation between expanded gun carry and the decline in general and violent crime rates that has occurred in the US over the past two decades.
Many gun owners, including Trump, say concealed weapons held by lawful Americans increase overall safety by discouraging criminals. “Our personal protection is ultimately up to us … It’s just common sense,” Trump writes in his campaign platform.
Yet the so-called “open carry” movement that galvanized the US in 2013-14 – where gun owners at times openly carried rifles into restaurants and stores – also sent a confusing, even dangerous, message, critics say.
A main crux is it’s difficult for non-gun-carrying citizens to know the intents and motivations of gun-carriers, who have, by the laws of physics, the immediate upper hand in case of conflict.
“The issue of gun ownership or gun rights has become one of the most contentious debates in the country,” read a statement last year from Chipotle. “Recently participants from an ‘open carry’ demonstration in Texas brought guns (including military-style assault rifles) into one of our restaurants, causing many of our customers anxiety and discomfort. [W]e are respectfully asking that customers not bring guns into our restaurants, unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”
That restaurants feel the need to assert such safety concerns is a sign to some Americans that gun owners have a responsibility to better traverse their own new gun freedoms – including, potentially, a "national right to carry" bill that Trump has said he'll support.
“Clearly, with Texans and their affinity for guns, there is one area sorely lacking when it comes to possession and the carrying of guns,” former Texas State Rep. Carl Parker writes for The Examiner news site in southeast Texas. “We are in need of the equivalent of Emily Post, a writer on social etiquette … Many of us are certainly in a quandary about protocol and manners when it comes to when, where and how we should wear our weapons or have them on open display.”