SAN ANTONIO, July 12 (UPI) -- Texas-based fast food chain Whataburger says it respects Americans' Second Amendment rights, as well as a new state law allowing licensed gun-holders to open carry -- but it won't allow the practice in its restaurants.
A popular institution in the South, Whataburger has long supported concealed carry permits but has banned the open carrying of firearms in their nearly 800 locations in ten states.
Earlier this year, the Texas legislature passed a law permitting gun permit holders to open carry their firearms -- but the ordinance also allows businesses to refuse the practice if they wish.
"Whataburger supports customers' Second Amendment rights and we respect your group's position, but we haven't allowed the open carry of firearms in our restaurants for a long time (although we have not prohibited licensed conceal carry)," Whataburger chief executive Preston Atkinson, himself a concealed carry holder, said in a statement posted to the company's website. "It's a business decision we made a long time ago and have stood by, and I think it's important you know why."
The franchise and legal scholars say the restaurant chain's decision to reject open carrying has more to do with acquiescing to customers' wishes than any alleged opposition to the law.
"We've had many customers and employees tell us they're uncomfortable being around someone with a visible firearm who is not a member of law enforcement, and as a business, we have to listen and value that feedback in the same way we value yours," Atkinson said.
"Every enterprise makes business decisions because it believes its customers will approve," Texas Tech University law professor Eric Chiappanelli said. "Lots of companies, big and small, public and private, have made the same decision Whataburger has made, and for the same reason. It's an assessment by each company of what will increase sales from its core customers."
The chain, started in 1950 in Corpus Christi, Texas, is popular in the Lone Star State -- which is home to millions of guns rights advocates. The law allowing license holders to open carry firearms will take effect Jan. 1.
"There's been a lot of talk the past couple weeks about Whataburger's open carry policy, and I wanted to reach out to personally explain our position," Atkinson said. "We proudly serve the gun rights community ... From a business standpoint, though, we have to think about how open carry impacts our 34,000+ employees and millions of customers.
"As a company serving customers with many different viewpoints, we're sometimes caught in the middle on controversial issues like this one."