News Column

As Arby's Disarms, Businesses Take Sides

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Arby's franchisee U.S. Beef Corp. is one of hundreds of businesses in the state trying to figure out what to do when Oklahoma's open carry firearm law takes effect Nov. 1.

Although U.S. Beef Corp. has the right to restrict weapons from entering its properties, the Tulsa-based company inadvertently became the target of a passionate Second Amendment controversy when it started posting "No Weapons" signs outside its Arby's restaurants two years ago.

The situation led to protests, and now U.S. Beef Corp. and other businesses face another decision: Should customers be allowed to carry guns openly in their business?

The question must be answered soon. An amendment to the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act was signed in May by Gov. Mary Fallin, and beginning Nov. 1 people who are licensed to carry concealed weapons will be allowed to carry their guns openly.

In interviews with the Tulsa World, business owners and managers say changes to the law are forcing them to consider how openly displayed firearms would affect safety and comfort of employees and customers.

Some are stepping up efforts to keep guns out of businesses, while others -- including banks and convenience stores -- say open carry presents no greater threat than concealed weapons.

A right to restrict U.S. Beef Corp. has the legal right to prohibit patrons and employees from carrying weapons inside its establishments, even if gun carriers hold a concealed carry permit.

But word of the company's no-weapons policy spread to gun-rights websites and was interpreted as an attack on the rights of gun owners, said Kim Thompson, vice president of human resources for U.S. Beef Corp.

"We had protests outside some of our stores, and I received literally hundreds of phone calls and emails complaining about our policy," she said. "They were very passionate."

After a few weeks, the company relented, changed its policy and took down signs. But it still prohibits employees from carrying weapons into the workplace.

"It puts us in a tough position because we can't allow our employees to carry weapons for protection," Thompson said. "It would make customers uncomfortable."

Businesses big and small across Oklahoma are grappling to come up with new policies.

Any property owner has the right to restrict firearms on their property, whether by posting signs or asking gun carriers to leave, according to lawyers and business trade groups. Many area property owners already post signs prohibiting firearms in their buildings.

Downtown building owner Kanbar Properties has signs prohibiting weapons, as do the BOK Center, LifeTime Fitness and Williams Cos. properties.

Many companies and property owners already prohibit guns, yet others never encountered problems with concealed firearms because they were out of sight and out of mind.

Under the new law, those weapons will be much more visible to business owners, patrons and employees.

Even businesses where guns might pose problems are taking varied approaches to the new law.

Unchanged policies Tulsa-based QuikTrip Corp. operates convenience stores in several states that have open carry laws, including Arizona.

"It hasn't created a problem for us in Arizona, and we don't plan on making any changes in Oklahoma," said QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh. "Of course, we aren't going to ask everyone who walks into a store in Oklahoma with a gun to see their permit."

The law expressly prohibits weapons in government buildings, schools and sports arenas during events. Bars and taverns also are prohibited.

Banks, convenience stores and restaurants were left out of the law, with the assumption that property owners could decide for themselves whether to allow weapons.

The Oklahoma Bankers Association lobbied lawmakers to prohibit guns in banks and credit unions because banks can be frequent targets of armed robbery attempts.

"First, there is the safety of the customers and then the safety of the employees," said Roger Beverage, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Bankers Association.

"We continued to make that argument, but the Legislature didn't see fit to make us an exception. I guess they thought if they granted one to us, they would have to start giving them to other groups."

Tulsa-headquartered BOK Financial Corp., which operates 41 Bank of Oklahoma branches in the market, doesn't have a weapons prohibition for customers in its banks and won't institute one with the enactment of the new law, said spokeswoman Andrea Myers.

"We have market banks in other states, like Arizona and New Mexico, in which open carry is the law and have not experienced issues as a result of it," she said. "As an employer, our employees are not allowed to possess a weapon of any kind on company property, regardless of their personal licenses to carry a handgun, other than authorized security personnel."

However, Bank of Oklahoma does have to defer to the policies of some property owners that won't allow guns on the premises, she said.

Jim Hopper, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, said members have been calling in recent weeks to inquire about the new law. The group did not expend any lobbying efforts on the bill.

Hopper said they are advising restaurant owners that they can put signs up if they don't want to allow weapons inside their businesses.

The Reasor's supermarket chain is readying new signage for its area stores that make it clear that weapons won't be allowed on site, said Steve Lehto, the company's chief operating officer.

"We feel like it's the best thing for our customers," he said. "We try to make the shopping experience easy and enjoyable for everyone."

Many large employers already have prohibitions against firearms and other weapons. Manufacturer AAON Inc., which has more than 1,100 employees at its west Tulsa factory, prohibits weapons, as does energy firm Williams Cos., which also owns several buildings downtown.

Williams Cos. prohibits firearms on its properties, including downtown Tulsa's Bank of Oklahoma Tower.

Oklahoma doesn't have any specific provisions clarifying appropriate signage pertaining to carrying firearms.

"Since we don't allow weapons now, our policy isn't going to change," said Eric Taylor, spokesman for AAON Inc. Senate Bill 1733 What: Signed by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 15, the bill allows people with concealed carry licenses to carry their guns openly beginning Nov. 1. The bill amended the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act.

No guns allowed: Guns still are not allowed at meetings of elected and government bodies; prisons, jails and other detention facilities; schools, colleges and technical schools; bars, taverns and night clubs; and arenas during sporting events.

Other exception: Businesses and property owners can legally prohibit someone from carrying a gun onto their premises.

Open carry Q&A

Oklahoma's amendment to the Oklahoma Self Defense Act to allow for open carry goes into effect Nov. 1. The state legislature and governor approved the changes in the last session. Here are questions and answers about the law:

How does this law change the previous law?

The open carry law allows for people with a valid concealed carry license to openly carry their weapon. The license is being renamed "handgun" license. Previously, people with concealed carry permits were not allowed to carry guns openly.

Where do I go to get a handgun license?

A handgun application packet may be obtained by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation online at tulsaworld.com/osbi and from instructors at training classes, which are typically offered at firearms businesses, gun ranges or security companies. To verify if an instructor is certified, contact the Council on Law Enforcement Education and training at 405-239-5100 or 580-310-0871. You can call the OSBI for an application packet at 800-207-6724. First-time applicants must submit the application at the sheriff's office in the county of residence. For renewals, the application packet may be submitted through the mail.

How long does it take to get a license?

It takes six to 12 weeks after the application is submitted.

What guns are allowed to be carried openly with a permit?

If you qualified using a semi-automatic, the license allows you to carry a derringer, revolver or semi-automatic. If you're qualified with a revolver, the license allows for carrying only a revolver.

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