- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Woodbridge restaurant associated with a popular country musician is drawing mixed reviews after posting a “no guns permitted” sign on its door.

Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill has been open two days but already made national headlines after the owners decided to prohibit firearms in the restaurant.

A post on the restaurant’s Facebook page states that “while we understand and respect every person’s right to own and bear arms, we at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, with guidance from the State of Virginia and based on insurance regulations, have adopted a no weapons policy. It is our desire to provided a safe, enjoyable and entertaining experience for our patrons and staff.”

By Sunday, about 800 people had offered their opinions on the prohibition, ranging from those who erroneously assumed firearms carriers were permitted to drink while armed to those pledging never to set foot inside the restaurant.

“I’m not into boycotts,” wrote one person who posted comments to the Facebook page. “I just don’t want to be in a place where the only ones armed are criminals looking for a convenient concentration of helpless victims.”

Another poster said the sign “is disrespectful to the rights of law abiding citizens.”

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But about 1,000 people “liked” the policy, with one poster stating he was “more scared of those who think they need a gun everywhere they go to protect themselves.”

A request for comment from a manager at the Woodbridge location was directed to a corporate email.

According to the website for the restaurant, which is named after a popular song by Mr. Keith, the Woodbridge location is one of 15 across the country and the second site in Virginia.

An employee at the Newport News restaurant said the business had been open several years and always had a “no guns” sign posted on its door.

Virginia gun owners have been permitted since 2010 to carry concealed weapons into businesses where alcohol is served, but state law prohibits those carriers from drinking alcohol.

State law also states that private property owners have the right to prohibit guns in their businesses.

The Virginia Center for Public Safety’s website provides information for business owners on their right to prohibit concealed or openly carried firearms.

Along with signs available for printing, the center states that “you have every right to refuse access and or services to individuals carrying firearms — concealed or not. This doesn’t mean that you’re questioning gun carriers’ rights. It only means that you don’t want guns around your customers and are asserting your private property rights in order to provide a safe environment.”

One restaurant in Virginia that welcomes gun owners is the Cajun Experience in Leesburg.

Owner Bryan Crosswhite instituted an Open Carry night every Wednesday at his restaurant. Patrons openly carrying are given a 10 percent discount, Mr. Crosswhite said, and the evening has gained a popular following.

“Our restaurant is pro-Second Amendment,” Mr. Crosswhite said. “We welcome gun owners to our restaurant.”

The decision was prompted by an incident at a Manassas restaurant earlier this year in which several police officers were refused service because they were carrying their guns,” Mr. Crosswhite said. “Who am I to tell a gun owner not to open carry? I am still abiding by the state of Virginia law. If you don’t like the law, get voters to change the law.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of the firearm advocacy group Virginia Citizens Defense League, said while his organization did not plan on a formal protest of Mr. Keith’s restaurant, he anticipated some effects from the decision to prohibit guns.

“Our view is it’s private property,” Mr. Van Cleave said. “This might be a good place for people who hate guns to go hang out.”

Mr. Van Cleave said that out of the tens of thousands of restaurants in Virginia, I Love This Bar & Grill represented a “fraction” of the those that prohibit guns on the premises.

“It’s just one restaurant,” he said. “Generally, when I pack up to go out to eat, I don’t really worry about it. We’re not going to protest Toby Keith’s place, but that’s not to say gun owners might decide not to buy his records or other things from him. That’s absolutely our right.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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