Friend or foe?
It's a not-quite-disarming question posed on a grassroots website developed by gun rights advocates. At friendorfoe.us, visitors to businesses can post online and anonymously if a business has signs prohibiting firearms or instead welcomes gun-carrying patrons with open arms, so to speak.
The site lists only a very few Tulsa businesses in the database, with limited accuracy ("We're completely friendly toward guns," said Zach Duty, operator of iDetail, a mobile car detailing service based in a van. "I usually carry my 9mm with me," Duty added, at a loss to explain how the site could possibly list his business as being negative toward gun owners.)
With the state's new open-carry law set to take effect Nov. 1, however, Tulsa businesses may find themselves pressed to answer how to handle a gun-toting patron walking through the door.
"We would be opposed to having weapons in our establishment. No question about it," said Susan Butcher, general manager of the Full Moon Café, 1525 E. 15 St.
Of course, patrons may have already walked in packing heat. Oklahoma law has allowed concealed handguns since 1996, but only with a permit, available exclusively to non-felons who complete a training course. Last year alone, the state approved about 24,000 licenses, including approximately 3,800 in Tulsa County.
State law prohibits bars from allowing guns inside, with only a very few exceptions. Other businesses can choose to ban guns if they wish, and will continue to be able to do so under the open-carry law that lets concealed-weapon permit holders now carry a holstered gun in open view.
"In my opinion, if you can see a weapon, I think that it raises people's anxiety level," Butcher said.
Don't expect the restaurant to advertise its stance. "There's no reason for us to post something outside the establishment," Butcher said. Instead, patrons with guns will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Bank of Oklahoma doesn't post signs prohibiting weapons at branch sites, though if they're renting the space, a landlord may do so, wrote Andrea Myers, the bank's media relations manager, in an email.
With the new law, the company has yet to make a final decision on whether that will change.
"We are looking into the details of the new Oklahoma open carry law and will determine if a new policy is needed," wrote Myers.
A backlash against businesses can be spotted in Missouri. Gun rights advocates at MissouriCarry.com pushed for the state to pass a concealed-carry law, which it did in 2003. The group also maintains a boycott list of businesses that don't allow guns to the extent the group would like.
"Businesses from around the state that have decided they don't want your dollars," states the group's description of the list.
Nationally, those favoring restrictive gun laws have also put pressure on businesses.
In 2010, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence sent a letter to Howard Schultz, founder and head of Starbucks Corporation, asking that the coffee shops ban gun owners from openly carrying their holstered weapons in states where open-carry is allowed.
"Incidents have been occurring, with growing frequency, particularly in California, where gun owners are openly carrying guns in public places like restaurants and coffee shops. Some of these 'open carry' meetings have occurred at various Starbucks shops. These gatherings of armed individuals have provoked a strong and adverse reaction from members of the public who are appalled that coffee shops and restaurants would allow guns on their premises," the letter stated, going on to ask Starbucks to take a stand against open-carry.
It didn't work. The company came out with its own statement.
"Advocacy groups from both sides of the issue have chosen to use Starbucks as a way to draw attention to their positions. While we deeply respect the views of all our customers, Starbucks long-standing approach to this issue remains unchanged. We comply with local laws and statutes in all the communities we serve," the company's statement said in 2010, adding that "the political, policy and legal debates around these issues belong in the legislatures and courts, not in our stores."
In Tulsa, it's unclear if local businesses will follow suit -- or if patrons will even make it an issue.
"I would expect that anybody foolish enough to carry a weapon exposed would probably find out that it's not as acceptable as they thought," said Rick Phillips, owner of Oklahoma Police Supply, 5308 E. Admiral Place, and 2A Shooting Center, 4616 E. Admiral Place.
A retired Tulsa Police Department officer, Phillips said he expects police to look warily on those who carry openly, confronting them to check for credentials and to "take control of the situation."
illustration by Gavin Elliott
He said he completely supports open-carry as a right under the Constitution. But, in practice, all the gun enthusiasts he knows feel that carrying a concealed weapon is a far more sensible choice.
For example, if someone carrying a concealed weapon walks into a convenience store during a robbery, they have choices: to focus on being a good witness for authorities, or to try to act against the robber.
If the gun is exposed and spotted by a criminal, "he's going to take action against you," Phillips said.
"I would never, or can't imagine any reason I would ever carry a weapon exposed, where someone could see it," Phillips said, adding that he feels most Tulsans will agree.
"I think it'll be a very unusual situation to see someone with an exposed weapon," Phillips said.
Tulsa is home to what's advertised as the world's largest gun show. Joe Wanenmacher built the show from about 200 tables in the late 1960s to roughly 4000 dealers now, or "approximately six miles of exhibits," as he puts it.
"I think more and more Tulsa residents are thinking about and have, in the past couple of years, bought their first gun for home protection," Wanenmacher said.
Not surprisingly, he said he favored open-carry.
"I don't want to see any further restrictions on firearms," Wanenmacher said.
As far as the decisions faced by business owners, Wanenmacher offered a hypothetical scenario for why a bank should consider allowing open-carry.
If a potential bank robber "approaches the bank lobby and sees two or three people with guns, open carry, he's certainly going to turn around and leave. That's my opinion."
He said he recognized that open-carry laws do not give permit holders the right to take guns everywhere.
"If it's a controversial issue, and you try to please everyone, you just can't," Wanenmacher said, adding, "I can appreciate business owners making a decision based upon what their patrons would think or would tolerate."
Phillips said he's seen stickers and signs around Tulsa on some businesses prohibiting guns.
At his shooting center, he has cards of his own printed up, advocating why businesses shouldn't turn away a group of potential customers who, if they have permits, are, after all, non-felons who have gone through a rigorous background check.
"We have those available to our customers to pass out," Phillips said. He added: "We don't think we offend anybody with these cards. I've never had any negative feedback."
Signs posted by businesses don't even get a glance from Phillips anymore when he goes shopping or out to eat.
"My honest answer is ... I don't look at the sign," Phillips said. As someone who worked three decades in law enforcement and began carrying a gun at age 21, anytime he's out, "I probably have a weapon with me," Phillips said.
If a business owner spotted his weapon and asked him to leave, "I would, without making any kind of a scene," he said.
"I'd say, 'I'm so sorry. You have a right to ask me to leave,'" Phillips said. So far, it's never happened.
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