The Politics of Food

Houston Restaurants Struggle With Open Carry Law (UPDATED)

Imagine that you are enjoying a meal in a restaurant. At a nearby table, another customer is unhappy with their dinner. His voice grows louder as he angrily berates the waitress over the slow service and the fact that he asked for mustard, not mayonnaise. You look over at the commotion and see that he has a gun in a holster strapped to his hip.

What would you do in this situation? Wait and see if the guy is actually nuts and pulls his gun? Pay your check and leave? Not pay your check and leave faster? If you’re packing heat yourself, will you feel better about the situation?

It’s time to think about these questions now, as the passage of Texas House Bill 910 means that starting on January 1, 2016, handgun owners can get a license to openly carry a handgun in the same places that allow carrying of a legally concealed one. That places include restaurants. The gun must be in a holster on the hip or under the arm.

If the idea of someone busting out a gun and firing away inside of a restaurant seems farfetched, rest assured that it isn’t. With or without open carry, restaurant shootings happen regularly. Here are some from just the past few weeks.
People already licensed to carry a concealed handgun are not required to take any additional training to carry it openly, although the training curriculum for new applicants is “updated to reflect the new training requirements related to the use of restraint holsters and methods to ensure the secure carrying of openly carried handguns.”

The only places that licensed individuals may not openly carry handguns are where concealed handguns are already banned. That includes federal buildings, courthouses, polling places, public sporting events, jails and businesses with a “51 percent” sign posted, such as bars that make at least half of their revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages. Carrying guns into places where they are prohibited is a felony.

A “campus carry” law that also passed this year, SB 11, allows for concealed handguns at public universities starting on August 1, 2016. It does not, however, provide for open carry on school property under any circumstances. Private universities can choose to ban guns and Rice University has already done so

Activist Kyle Nielsen has been asking Houston restaurants over the past few weeks how they plan to respond to the new law and some of the responses are disconcerting. In many instances, restaurant owners seem to not understand the law and, even if they do, are not sure what they’re going to do about it.

For example, an employee at Common Bond told Nielsen, “Actually, as we have a license to serve alcohol with the TABC, only in very specific circumstances can a firearm be legally in our business. To my knowledge, open carry handguns are not permissible, and allowing the open carry of a firearm by non-police or military would result in forfeiting our TABC license."

That’s actually incorrect. Holding a permit to serve alcoholic beverages doesn’t automatically make open carry prohibited on the premises. A 51-percent sign would also need to be posted if applicable. If that doesn’t apply to the business, open carry is allowed.

There is a way for private businesses to forbid openly carried guns on their premises. They have to post a “30.07” sign, which refers to section 30.07 of the Texas Penal Code entitled, “Trespass By License Holder With An Openly Carried Handgun.” The sign fulfills the requirement for the owner to provide “written communication” It must posted in a conspicuous place and specifically state, in “contrasting colors with block letters at least one inch in height”:

"Pursuant to Section 30.07, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with an openly carried handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property with a handgun that is carried openly”

The signs are available ready-made from several retailers. Businesses which also want to prohibit concealed handguns have to also post the 30.06 sign, as detailed in Texas Penal Code 30.06, “Trespass By License Holder With A Concealed Handgun.”

Updated 12/22/15, 4:24 p.m.: Owner Bill Hutchinson of Pizaro's Pizza says both of his locations absolutely will be posting the 30.06 and 30.07 signs to prohibit both concealed and openly carried handguns. He says a prior response of "We don't plan to" to Nielsen on a company Facebook page preceded the ownership actually making a decision on the issue. 

Updated 12/31/15: 9:52 a.m.: Owner Kaiser Lashkari of Himalaya has made a strong decision to ban guns at his restaurant, writing on Facebook, "Read my lips. We will not allow open that clear. Someone has played mischief. We were undecided for a while but after great deliberation with my better half we stand united in our decision."

According to Nielsen’s survey, restaurants that plan to ban guns and post the necessary signs include Torchy’s Tacos, Bernie’s Burger Bus, Tout Suite and The Cajun Stop. Himalaya and Pizaro’s told him they do not plan to post signs and apparently Taste of Texas was so appalled at the question, they banned Nielsen and removed his question from their Facebook page.

Restaurateur Tracy Vaught of Hugo's, Caracol and Backstreet Cafe has decided the restaurants will all post the 30.06 and 30.07 signs. She said, "We will not be allowing open carry or concealed hand guns in our restaurants.  It's not because I want to make a political statement; it's because alcohol and guns don't mix.  I want our restaurants to be a safe zone for our customers and their families." 

Restaurants who post the 30.07 sign can ask someone who walks in with a visible gun to leave and call the police if the person refuses. Even that action, though, will take some guts. Who wants to upset someone who's carrying a gun? 

Vaught isn't worried about that aspect, saying, "They can just lock it in their car and come back in." 
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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook