Chili’s and Sonic became the latest national chains to wade into the gun debate on Friday, announcing in apparently coordinated statements that firearms are no longer welcome in their restaurants.
In separate statements to The Huffington Post, the companies said that they were asking customers not to openly carry firearms in their eateries, following a similar move by Chipotle earlier this month.
“We recognize that the open carry of firearms creates an uncomfortable atmosphere and is not permitted under many local liquor laws,” Ashley Johnson, a spokeswoman for Chili's' parent company, Brinker International, said in an email. “So, we kindly ask that guests refrain from openly carrying firearms into our restaurants and we will continue to follow state and local laws on this issue.”
A Sonic spokesman said the company will defer to local laws with respect to storing guns in vehicles, but said it will no longer permit firearms in its dining areas.
“We’re asking that customers refrain from bringing guns onto our patios or into our indoor dining areas,” said Patrick Lenow, Sonic's vice president of public relations.
He acknowledged that, before the company set the policy, he "spoke to a number of my peers at non-competing restaurant concepts" this week.
Johnson also suggested the statement was coordinated. "When issues like this happen, we always talk to others in the industry to get their perspective," she said
Both spokespeople said that the recent shooting in Isla Vista, California, did not affect the timing of their announcements.
Chili’s told HuffPost last week it was reviewing its policy, which had been to follow local laws, after a video surfaced of activists from the group Open Carry Texas bringing assault rifles and other heavy firearms into a San Antonio location. The protesters were asked to leave after upsetting other diners.
Soon after, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which advocates for tougher gun restrictions, launched a campaign calling on the businesses to crack down on guns, or face boycotts. Chipotle was the first to adopt a new policy in response, asking customers to not carry guns into its locations.
Shannon Watts, the founder of Mom's Demand Action, said the social media campaign to convince Chili's and Sonic had gathered steam over the last week, attracting the support thousands of members, along with celebrities like actress Melissa Joan Hart and rock musician Billie Joe Armstrong.
"We know moms make the majority of spending decisions for our families," she said. "When we collectively wield our economic power we can make a real difference."
Next week, supporters were planning to deliver tens of thousands of petitions to the corporate headquarters of both companies, Watts said. She credited the images of gun-toting people at the restaurants that went viral with helping to force the issue.
"No one wants to see photos of assault rifles in their restaurants," she said. "It's not good for the brand."
Last Friday, hours after HuffPost reported that Chili's was considering a rule on guns, Open Carry Texas backed down. In a statement, also posted on its Facebook page, the group acknowledged that its tactics, which are intended to encourage broader acceptance of firearms in public, were having the opposite effect. Carrying rifles and shotguns into businesses is the approach that has "gotten the most resistance and suffered the largest setbacks," the group said.
CJ Grisham, the president of Open Carry Texas, told HuffPost on Friday the group would comply with the restaurants' requests. "Our comment is that business owners have a right to make their employees and customers defenseless to the criminal element," Grisham said. "We have always honored private property rights. Gun free zones have only proven that criminals don't read signs."
The coffee giant Starbucks has also requested that customers leave guns at home, following rallies at one of its stores in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.