- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2014

The owners of TBonz Steakhouse in Augusta, Georgia, decided to be proactive when Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law one of the most comprehensive pro-gun bills in the country this April, which allowed firearms into the state’s bars and restaurants.

The eatery hung up a “No Guns” sign on its front door.

Its customer backlash was so harsh and quick that the steakhouse immediately took down the sign and then posted a mea culpa on its Facebook page.

“The sign that was put up regarding firearms has been removed,” TBonz said in its Facebook posting this May. “It was our intention to get the attention of IRRESPONSIBLE gun owners. But then we realized that irresponsible gun owners do not pay attention to signs.”

Carrying rights are now a reality in every state, while only three states — Maine, North Dakota and Illinois — claim a complete ban on guns in restaurants or any establishment that derives more than half of its profits from alcohol. In many states, including Ohio, it’s up to the customer to refrain from drinking alcohol while carrying a firearm — which can be an operational headache. Some remain silent on the issue, essentially giving a free pass to carry.

While each state’s bill is written differently and has varied licensing requirements, most give restaurant and bar owners the right to “post” their establishment — that is, to tack a sign onto their door either prohibiting or allowing guns.

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After the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, many national chain eateries, including Starbucks, Sonic and Chipotle, told their customers to leave behind their weapons — homing in on what they believed to be a rising national antigun sentiment.

However, many smaller restaurants and bars are embracing guns, telling patrons to come in and eat armed for a variety of reasons, including not angering their own customer base, to attract Second Amendment rights activists and to not leave themselves vulnerable to crimes by blatantly stating everyone in the joint is unarmed.

The Cajun Experience in Leesburg, Virginia, has Second Amendment Wednesdays, where patrons are encouraged to either go concealed carry or open carry.

“This is a Virginia restaurant, and we abide by Virginia state laws, which allow for open carry or concealed carry in a restaurant — so why should I hinder it? It’s our constitutional right to bear arms,” said Bryan Crosswhite, owner of the Cajun Experience. “We definitely see more traffic since we started this. It’s been an overwhelming response.”

In addition to owning a gun-friendly eatery, Mr. Crosswhite has started an organization that lists other pro-Second Amendment companies nationally, called www.2amendment.org. He started the venture this winter and already has 57,000 businesses signed on.

Gunburger.com is another registry where Second Amendment activists keep a log of both gun-friendly shops and the anti-Second Amendment stores in Arizona and Kansas. They meet monthly to both update the list, converse and eat and drink with their weapons in a firearm-friendly establishment.

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Local shops who show the love to gun-toting customers are getting it in return.

Sharma Floyd, owner of Shiloh Brew & Chew in Maryville, Tennessee, has gained national media attention by putting a sign in the window of her restaurant welcoming firearm owners with permits, and business has been booming. At Shooter Grill in Rifle, Colorado, waitresses are packing. All Around Pizzas & Deli in Virginia Beach gives discounts to patrons who show up armed.

And at Chicken Express in Bossier City, Louisiana, a free combo meal was given to patrons who showed up with a concealed carry license this April. Owner Randal Neel said it was the busiest Saturday the store has ever had.

The new deal wasn’t just to generate more business — although it certainly didn’t hurt — but to stand up for gun owners’ rights as state legislators discuss new gun legislation, Mr. Neel told his local ABC affiliate, KLTV.

“It feels really good to be able to stand up for what you believe in,” Mr. Neel told the television station.

Some bar owners whose states allow concealed carry prefer to let their customers guess who may or may not be packing rather than plaster a sign onto the door banning all guns.

“I thought if you would go and put up a sign saying ‘No concealed carry,’ what if a crook came in and realized he was the only one with a firearm? Why should I post that?” said John Kavanaugh, owner of Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club in Madison, Wisconsin. “There’s never been an issue about it. We have such a variety of customers — older, younger, a lot of families — and I stay out of the mix.”

Mr. Kavanaugh isn’t the only store owner who believes mum is the word.

Stephanie Evans, owner of Wings on the Run in Greenville, South Carolina, was grateful she kept a firearm at her place of business.

In January, about 10 minutes to closing, an armed masked man barged through the restaurant’s door demanding she open the cash register. Simultaneously, a coworker ran to the back, got out the store’s firearm, shot twice, nailed the robber, and had him on the run.

“Nothing was stolen. I’m so glad we had that firearm,” Mrs. Evans said of the ordeal. “I’m not sure what would’ve transpired had we not.”

The South Carolina legislature passed a bill this year allowing for concealed carry in restaurants. No sign has been posted on Mrs. Evan’s door either for or against firearms.

But that’s not true elsewhere.

The Pit Authentic Barbecue in Durham, North Carolina, decided to take a different approach when North Carolina made it legal to carry concealed guns in bars last year. Managers swiftly hung a “No Weapons, No Concealed Firearms” sign in the window.

The barbecue restaurant was robbed at gunpoint in May. Two employees were injured, with one ending up in the hospital.

The restaurant has stuck to its guns: It still doesn’t permit concealed carry.

• Kelly Riddell can be reached at kriddell@washingtontimes.com.

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