Burning question at Texas dealerships: should you allow the open carry of handguns in your dealership?
Sure, says Texas dealer Greg May. If his customers want to pack their pistols publicly while they shop or have their vehicles serviced, it’s all good.
May wears a concealed 9mm handgun every single day. Three of his employees do the same. May obtained his concealed-handgun license four years ago because, as he puts it, “the world isn’t getting any better to live in.”
Now, May, his employees and his customers don’t have to conceal their handguns. On Jan. 1, it became legal for citizens in Texas to carry their handguns openly in hip or shoulder holsters, but no one at May’s dealerships does so, he said.
“Our policy is that if you have a concealed-handgun license you can open carry, you can keep it hidden, whatever you’d like to do — but you’ve got the right to carry your gun and we’re OK with it inside the dealership,” said May, who owns Honda, Chevrolet and Hyundai stores in central Texas. He added, “since they’ve enacted that open-carry law, we’ve not had one person come in here with their firearm openly in view.”
The debate over how to interpret the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gives citizens the right to “keep and bear arms,” is emotionally charged. To the relief of some dealers in Texas, though, it has been pretty much a non-issue in their stores.
Under the Lone Star State’s Jan. 1 law, citizens can carry handguns openly if the person has a license to carry and if the property owner does not display signs banning the practice.
Some Texas dealers say they have posted signs banning the open carrying of handguns in their dealerships not because they are against gun ownership, but for the comfort and safety — real or perceived — of their employees and customers. Others have taken no action and will deal with the practice if a situation arises.
In communities where hunting is popular and shotgun racks are fixtures on pickups, owners of dealerships may be more open to guns — concealed and unconcealed — than owners of dealerships in areas where hunting is not prevalent, she said.
Mike Good, general manager of Street Toyota in Amarillo, Texas, said many of his customers are members of the National Rifle Association, so for them seeing a handgun is not a problem, but the dealership has a sign at each door banning the practice because, he said, guns make some people uncomfortable.
“Our sensitivity probably impacts a minority of our customers, but we feel good about the decision,” Good said. “We’ve not had one single comment or one negative reaction to the signage or to our policy.
“I’ve lived in Amarillo the better part of 30 years. Since Jan. 1, I haven’t seen one person in this city openly carrying a firearm.”
Amid the generally low-key response to the new Texas law, guns and gun rights have created some heat for some Texas dealerships, both pro and con.
Customers who want to carry their handguns openly at Benny Boyd Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, in Andrews, north of Midland in west Texas, are welcome to do so, but most customers conceal their weapons, said Strate Colbath, the dealer principal.
Colbath so believes in the Second Amendment that he ran a promotion in May 2015 that included a gift card for a gun valued at $500 with every purchase of a new car or truck if the buyer had a handgun license or could qualify for one. Those who could not qualify or didn’t want a gun could choose other merchandise from a local farm and ranch store. The promotion was so successful that Colbath ran it again in late 2015 and plans to do so this summer, too.
The dealer principal of Monument Chevrolet in Pasadena, near Houston, got caught between Texas’ concealed-carry gun law and consumer sentiment.
Last fall, a 13-year-old sign at his dealership banning concealed handguns created an in-your-Facebook response. An irate customer aired his displeasure with the dealership’s position on the social media site. That led to “hundreds” of negative comments such as “I only shop where I can carry” and “I will modify or remove this one star review when you don’t trample on my second amendment rights.”
Smith said he was “blown away” by the Facebook “hate mail” that came from as far away as Seattle. The sign is still posted and the dealership hasn’t had any comments about it lately, Smith said.
When the law allowing open carry went into effect, Smith decided not to change the sign. “We thought we’d react on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “We did not risk putting up a sign about open carry like the concealed-carry one that had gotten us so much anger before.”