Business owners have the right to control the presence of guns on their premises and it appears many are treading carefully since the open carry law went into effect Nov. 1.
Signs banning, or welcoming, legal firearms are not widespread. Business owners face a difficult decision: if they ban firearms, will they alienate pro-gun customers? But if they allow them, will customers become uncomfortable if someone comes in carrying a gun?
Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma is one example of a business that posted signs banning guns at its retail stores after open carry became law. Chief Executive Chris Daniels explained the move was made to protect its employees, many of whom are disabled and could become anxious about the presence of a gun in the store.
A customer contacted Daniels last week to complain about the policy and the inconvenience he faced returning to his vehicle to store his firearm. But, Daniels said, after he explained the company's position, the customer understood and asked if there was anything he could do to help.
Daniels said the company is open to revising its policy but officials believed they needed to take a quick stance before it became an issue.
“We thought we needed to get a hold of it quickly until we could gather some more information,” Daniels said.
On the other end of the spectrum, customers entering Casa De Los Milagros Mexican Restaurant and Cantina encounter two signs on the door. The first reads “Your legal carry firearm is welcome here!” and shows a handgun with a red heart around it. The other reads “Nothing on this property is worth your life!” The signs were created by crimeseen.com, an Edmond-based security company.
During a busy lunch hour this week, it didn't appear any customers were openly carrying a gun at the restaurant. A manager on-site declined to comment on the signs and the owners didn't return a message left by The Oklahoman.
At the Warren Theatres in Moore, a list of the company's rules is etched into the exterior glass doors. The top one prohibits open carry. Patrons legally carrying a concealed handgun, however, are permitted.
The Warren Theatres and Casa De Los Milagros were two of several businesses contacted that declined to discuss their policy for this report.
Law arrives with little drama
When open carry became law in Oklahoma, any person with a concealed carry license automatically became able to carry a handgun openly as well. The change came with very little drama because most people who carry a concealed weapon weren't planning to openly carry, said Miles Hall, who owns H&H Shooting Sports Complex in Oklahoma City.
Permit holders were more concerned with accidentally exposing their concealed handgun if, for instance, they reached for their wallet, he explained. Now, that isn't illegal. They also wanted to be able to openly carry a weapon on their own land, which the new law allows.
Open carry is permitted inside H&H, but the store does ask patrons not to handle their guns — a practice they've had for years, Hall said.
Attorney Matthew Love, who has counseled police departments on the law, said businesses retain a lot of discretion on how they handle firearms inside their establishment.
They can ban firearms, do nothing, allow concealed but not open carry, even refuse to allow certain customers to carry a gun. It's similar to being able to refuse service to patrons not wearing a shirt or shoes, he said.
The only type of business where the law prohibits open (or concealed) handguns is a bar — defined as an establishment where alcohol is consumed if the sale of alcohol constitutes the establishment's primary source of income.
Weapons are also banned from courthouses, government buildings, schools and a handful of other institutions.
But the law allows permit holders to openly carry inside a restaurant like Chili's — which has a bar but serves mostly food — or a liquor store, which sells alcohol but doesn't allow it to be consumed on the premises, Love said.
“The Legislature was very narrow on the places prohibited by statute. I think a lot of business owners wish it wasn't that way,” Love said. For example, there are probably pastors who wish the law included churches so they wouldn't have to make a decision on what, if any, to allow, he said.
Banks, too, have taken different approaches. First Fidelity Bank has posted signs alerting customers that its branches don't allow firearms or weapons. Bank of Oklahoma, on the other hand, does not have a policy for visitors bringing weapons into the bank.
“We have banks in other states, like New Mexico, in which open carry is legal and have not experienced issues as a result,” said Andrea Myers, senior communications manager. Employees, she said, other than security personnel are not allowed to possess weapons at work.
Doug Tippens, president and chief executive of Bank of Commerce, which bans weapons, said he had two customers threaten to close their accounts when they tried to openly carry into the bank. But Tippens, who has been through a bank robbery before, said the policy is in place for the safety of the bank's staff.
“I told them I support the second amendment, but guns make my employees very nervous,” he said.
Restaurant owners have questions
Restaurants that serve alcohol have called the state ABLE Commission, as well as the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, with questions on how to handle certain situations, ABLE assistant director Jim Hughes said. For instance, what should they do if someone openly carrying sits down at the bar inside a restaurant? Can they serve him or her a drink?
The law states a person who is intoxicated can't carry a firearm.
“You can't be intoxicated but that doesn't mean you can't drink,” Hughes said.
The duty servers and bartenders already have to not serve a patron to the point of intoxication extends to someone openly carrying a firearm. If they drink too much, it's the responsibility of the business owner, not the employee, to ask them to leave, Love, the attorney, said.
But if the patron refuses, they aren't committing a gun crime — it's trespassing, Love said. The same goes for a customer openly carrying who enters a business with signs posted not allowing weapons.
Questions for businesses about open carry:
A: No, the statute doesn't require a sign. Business owners can state their policy verbally.
Q: Can I allow concealed firearms but not open carry?
A: Yes, what, if any, firearms are allowed inside is at the business owner's discretion.
Q: Can I prohibit someone from keeping their gun inside their car in the parking lot?
A: No, the law allows gun owners to secure the firearm inside a locked vehicle.
Q: Can I ask someone who is openly carrying to show me their permit?
A: You can ask but you can't compel them to show it. License holders, by law, are only required to show their permit to law enforcement.