Chipotle asks customers to leave assault rifles at home

Slurping your drink and licking your fingers are among the faux pas tolerated in fast-food restaurants. But bringing your gun to the table is still frowned upon, at least by some.

On Monday, burrito chain Chipotle issued a statement asking customers who aren’t law enforcement officers to leave their weapons at home because “the display of firearms in our restaurants has now created an environment that is potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers.”

It all started last weekend when gun-rights activists affiliated with Open Carry Texas brought military-style assault rifles into a Dallas-area Chipotle, scaring some customers.

Open Carry Texas founder C.J. Grisham told Forbes that the armed trip to Chipotle was not a demonstration, but simply a meal following an event. “We don’t go there just to carry guns into a restaurant,” he said. “We always let the manager know we’re coming. We try very hard to make people feel comfortable.”

The spectacle prompted Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a pro-gun control group backed by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, to circulate a “Burritos, Not Bullets” petition asking Chipotle to ban guns in its stores, citing concerns about public safety.  The group has made similar requests of other restaurants.

Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for the group, told the Associated Press she thought the move by Chipotle was a “bold statement,” especially considering its previous stance of going along with local conceal-and-carry laws.

Businesses have the right to ban guns on their premises, even in states that allow people to carry licensed firearms in public.

Chipotle did not respond to news outlets who asked whether the new policy is an outright ban and how it will respond if people continue to bring firearms to their restaurants. In its statement, the restaurant said it declined to ban guns outright in the past because of concerns about putting employees in the uncomfortable position of having to enforce such a ban. 

The restaurant also acknowledged that there are strong arguments on both sides of the gun rights issue but said “it is the role of elected officials and the legislative process to set policy in this area, not the role of businesses like Chipotle …. [W]e do not feel that our restaurants should be used as a platform for either side of the debate.”

Even pro-gun groups disagree over the politics of bringing guns into restaurants. Open Carry Texas, the group that brought guns into Chipotle, recently severed ties with Open Carry Tarrant County after the former member group showed up at a Jack in the Box restaurant carrying rifles without notifying police in advance and without carrying signs indicating that it was meant as a political statement. “Officers spoke with Jack-in-the-Box employees who reported that they feared for their lives and believed they were being robbed. They locked themselves inside a freezer for protection out of fear the rifle-carrying men would rob them,” reported a local CBS affiliate, quoting a statement from the Fort Worth Police Department.

Chipotle isn’t the first restaurant to ask customers not to bring guns. The AP reports:

Last year, Starbucks Corp. also told customers that guns were no longer welcome in its cafes after it had to temporarily close a store in Newtown, Conn., to avoid a demonstration by gun-rights advocates. The company said it shut down the store out of respect for the community, where 20 school children and six educators had been slain.

The Seattle-based coffee chain stopped short of a ban, however, saying it didn’t want to put its workers in the position of having to ask people carrying guns to leave its stores. Its carefully worded decision also underscored how major companies need to walk a fine line on highly divisive political issues

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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