Permit or not, those who carry guns in Oklahoma are required to respect the prerogative of individual businesses before taking their weapons onto the property.
However, when the new open carry legislation becomes law on Thursday, some businesses that don't currently publicize a gun policy might find themselves in an awkward predicament.
Many banks, gas stations and professional offices already post on their doors or in their employee handbooks signs and policies that prohibit firearms on the property. Open carry will not change anything for these businesses, except employees now maintain the right to store a firearm in their vehicle on company property.
But some Oklahoma business owners currently comfortable with concealed carry are less excited about the prospect of people carrying their handguns openly inside the premises.
“I think it's less on the intent of the customer and more along the lines of the comfort of our customers,” said Will Miller, co-owner of Absolute Diamond & Gold Buyers, which buys and sells fine jewelry and coins in Oklahoma City. “You know not everybody's comfortable with it and we understand that. I do believe if a customer was to come in with open carry, I might ask, due to the nature of the business, ‘would you please conceal it while you're in the store?'”
Absolute does not have a gun policy stickered to its door, and Miller said he has no intention to put one up. His employees are allowed to carry a gun concealed while at work, and as a security precaution one of his men — a longtime Air Force veteran — carries his openly as a deterrent.
He said he will continue that in-house policy as well.
“Other people don't need to know that I'm carrying. It's not a show of strength, if you will, or something like that,” he said. “I don't mean to draw attention to myself or anything like that; it's there for a purpose and I carry it for that purpose.”
Ian Pugh, co-owner of Charlie's Sports Grill, in Choctaw, and its sister restaurant, Charlie's Lakeside, in Eufaula, has the same attitude.
A former reserve sheriff's deputy, said he supports the right of his customers to carry their weapon concealed. Open carry, however, is a different story.
“You certainly wouldn't want someone sitting on the bar side with a pistol visible, so probably what we're going to end up doing is some creatively worded sign like, ‘No visible weapons,' or something like that,” Pugh said. “Perception is everything in a small town and I would be terrified to get the perception, ‘Don't go there because everybody carries guns.'”
Others said that even after the new law goes into effect, they will continue to operate without a stated policy that trumps the state law.
Barden Kellum, director of operations for OnCue Express, a chain of convenience stores and gas stations based in Stillwater, said that unless there are problems, his company will allow open carrying of firearms by customers.
“I prefer people don't carry guns in the stores, but we're not going to start out that way,” Kellum said. “We're going to start out seeing where this goes, and hopefully we don't have an incident. If everybody's carrying guns maybe employees are safer, or maybe they're more at risk — we just don't know yet. If somebody's going to rob you today, they're obviously not going to show it coming in, so if a guy's coming in, at least you know what you're dealing with because it's visual.”
Mark Lisle, president at the Edmond branch of BancFirst, said his business, too, will continue to operate without a policy that breaks from state law.
“People come in now with concealed guns, we just don't know about it,” Lisle said. “We think it's kind of a nonevent and we're going to see very few customers if any that carry weapons either concealed or open as the novelty wears off and people realize it's kind of cumbersome to carry.”
Roger Beverage, president and chief executive at the Oklahoma Bankers Association, said bank managers will continue to be allowed to make that decision for themselves.
“The most important thing we're doing as an industry is to do everything we can to ensure our customers and our employees are safe,” Beverage said. “We think, generally speaking, every bank has the opportunity to decide for itself whether it wants to prohibit weapons on the premises. Most of them do.”
Bryan Hull, who sits on the board of directors for Oklahoma Open Carry Association, said he and other advocates of open carry will work to support those businesses that respect the new law and to boycott those that don't.
Hull carries in his pocket a stack of cards that he distributes to businesses that do not allow firearms inside. The cards explain the benefits of an armed customer base and suggest a boycott from gun owners should the no-guns policy stay intact.
Over the summer, when officials of Midwest City-based grocery store chain Crest Foods began putting “no handgun” stickers on their doors, open carry supporters inundated the business with phone calls and crashed the company website.
The incident persuaded owner Bruce Harroz to reconsider the policy, he said.
“We're looking toward no weapons allowed, but we haven't pulled the trigger on it yet,” Harroz said. “Everybody's going to be carrying heat, and I don't know how the customer is going to react to that.”
Hull said it's important for Harroz and other business owners to recognize criminals won't respect their anti-handgun policies, and that gun carriers are, necessarily, law-abiding citizens without a criminal record or a record of drug use.
Gun-free zones like college campuses or movie theaters may attract criminals who are not interested in carrying out a robbery or shooting in places where their victims also may be toting guns, Hull argued.
“Understand that 4 percent of Oklahomans have a handgun license, and that number is going up very rapidly,” he said. “There is a very, very large number of gun owners who refuse to do business at a place that puts up these signs.”