Open carry divides businesses along the Drag

Forrest Milburn

Businesses along the Drag are posting signs outside their storefronts which ban the open carry of firearms in an effort to appeal to customers dissatisfied with a new Texas gun law.

On Jan. 1, House Bill 910, approved by the legislature over the summer, took effect, allowing any Texas gun owner with a concealed handgun license to begin openly carrying firearms in a hip or shoulder holster.

Since open carry has taken effect, several popular businesses along the Drag — including Chipotle, Torchy’s, Kerbey Lane Cafe and Austin’s Pizza — have opted out of the new law.

While any business making more than 51 percent of their sales from alcohol purchases, such as The Local, are already exempt from the open carry law’s effects, other businesses along the Drag have either remained neutral on putting out signs or have decided not to do so until complications arise.

“If it becomes an issue in the future, I will definitely make sure that my staff and my clients are protected in the best way necessary,” Jennifer Matyear, owner of Jenn’s Copy and Binding, said. “At the moment, I have full faith in our system and believe that we have a peaceful community, and I don’t see this being an issue.”

While also reaching out to open carry supporters, business owners at some of these restaurants and businesses along the Drag argue that having a few customers walk in while openly carrying a firearm could scare off potential business.

“We serve customers from all walks of life at more than 780 locations, 24 hours a day, in 10 states, and we’re known for a family friendly atmosphere that customers have come to expect from us,” Whataburger President Preston Atkinson said in a June 2015 press release. “We have a responsibility to make sure everyone who walks into our restaurants feels comfortable.”

While honoring existing “gun-free zones” on government property, the law also allows business owners to opt out of the law by posting two signs in Spanish and English outside the storefront referencing section 30.07 of the penal code, which deals with the trespass of licensed firearms carriers.

Sociology freshman Jeremey Gabreleski, who recently dined at a business opting out of the new law, said he believes businesses should not feel worried about scaring off potential customers or about being robbed.

“If somebody [came] in thinking of robbing a restaurant, they would see much more people with open carry,” Gabreleski said. “That’s a deterrent for committing a crime because there’s so much more risk added to it.”

While businesses throughout Austin are worried about the new law’s effects on potential business, students are split on whether the potential for open carry makes them more or less likely to enter a business.

English junior Emily Dixon said she believes the open carry law could potentially be dangerous for customers because the high population of homeless and loiterers along the Drag may lead to increased thefts and accidents.

“The shops along the Drag tend to be small and crowded,” Dixon said. “Even if a gun is not loaded, should it accidentally go off in such tight quarters, people could get hurt.”