Ready or not, here it comes: House Bill 901 goes into effect Jan. 1, which will allow for the open carrying of licensed firearms throughout the state of Texas—and, yes, in large cities like Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. Though it's up to individual businesses whether or not they allow open-carry on their private premises, a so-called 30.07 sign must be posted at the entrance if the business has decided to ban firearms on their property.
While the signage is an expense and a hassle, it's the thorny issue itself that restaurants and grocery stores are struggling with as 2016 looms on the horizon. Whataburger famously issued a press release after the passage of HB 901 in the Texas Legislature stating that open carry firearms would be banned from their burger joints, becoming one of the first large restaurants to pick a side in what has become an increasingly divisive issue.
No matter how you feel about Second Amendment rights, you may not want to dine, drink or grocery shop around civilians carrying pistols on their hips, because as much as you liked Val Kilmer's performance in Tombstone, you definitely didn't like the idea of gunfights breaking out over dinner. On the other hand, you may appreciate going to a restaurant where you know you won't be shunned for the Sig Sauer in your holster. Whichever side of the issue you're on, Kyle Nielsen has just the resource you've been looking for. (Disclosure: Nielsen is the fiancé of a Houstonia staff writer.)
Along with the help of Phaedra Cook, restaurant reviewer for the Houston Press, and Darla Guillen, a staff writer at the Houston Chronicle, Nielsen has compiled a spreadsheet of restaurants and grocery stores that have issued public statements on their open-carry policies. Since Dec. 8, the trio has added to the publicly-accessible spreadsheet by calling, emailing and tracking down business owners to get a definitive statement on their open-carry policies in advance of Jan. 1. It currently includes information for eight national grocery chains (want to open carry at Kroger? you're in luck) and over 80 area restaurants.
"I was curious about what the policy would be at some of my favorite restaurants after the New Year," says Nielsen, who notes that while most businesses were forthcoming with their new policies, at least one stalwart steakhouse refused to answer the team's many inquiries. "I was most surprised by Taste of Texas," he says, "who chose to ban me from their Facebook page rather than simply answering the question." Three other customers' questions on the Memorial-area steakhouse's open-carry policy remain unaddressed on its Facebook page as of today.
Nielsen found that most other restaurants were happy to supply him an answer, even if they didn't have one readily available. "I think this [question] has snuck up and caught many by surprise," says Nielsen. "Most businesses thrive by avoiding controversy, and this wedge issue is forcing many of them to come down on one side or the other." And while the majority of restaurants and grocery stores the trio polled did eventually come down on the side of prohibiting open carry as of Jan. 1, at least one restaurant is welcoming it.
Brooks' Place, the popular barbecue trailer in Cypress, will not only allow open carry—they're celebrating it. "Join us for this one day event where your LEGAL firearms are welcomed," reads a post on its Facebook page. At the Jan. 1 event, owner Trent Brooks will be offering 10 percent off for concealed carriers and 25 percent off for those openly carrying their weapons. A new sign posted outside of his trailer reads: "Firearms welcome. Please keep all weapons holstered unless such a need arises. In such a case, judicious marksmanship is appreciated."