There’s a small smokehouse trailer set up in a strip mall lot in suburban Houston, where barbecue’s truly devout congregate for warm brisket, ribs and smoked pork butt.
The meat – cooked low and slow – is the draw, so some of the customers at Brooks’ Place probably haven’t noticed the sign fixed outside – the one welcoming gun owners to bring their weapons, sit down and eat.
The joint’s owner, Trent Brooks, says he’s a businessman, not a political player. But when Texas this month became the 45th state to sanction so-called “open carry,” Brooks cooked up a way to celebrate.
He said he’s offering a 10 percent discount to all gun-toting customers – a simple way to show support for the new gun law that, he said, supports gun owners like him.
“We support the Second Amendment, and anyone who has the sense to protect themselves, their homes and businesses, their families and their neighbors – when they have to,” Brooks said. “It’s just an appreciation thing. It’s not political.”
The law, which was implemented Jan. 1, permits Texans with concealed handgun licenses to keep their guns in holsters in plain view.
When the bill was introduced, it sparked a debate between proponents who argued that visible weapons would help deter criminals and naysayers who contended it would only make authorities’ job more difficult: How would police be able to tell the good guys from the bad? And how could they manage a scene where everyone has a gun, and has been encouraged to use it?
Many states either grant open-carry permits or do not require them, according to the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. Five states, as well as the District of Columbia, ban open carry.
The Texas law applies only to handguns.
Still, the state does not allow firearms in certain public places, including correctional facilities, polling places and certain places where alcohol is sold.
In August, Texas will begin permitting concealed carry on college campuses, but open carry will still be banned.
As the state settles into the open-carry era, many area businesses are trying to decide how to work in it.
Several private businesses, including supermarket chains H-E-B and Whole Foods, along with the popular fast-food chain Whataburger, have said they will not support open carry. Establishments can ban concealed carry by posting a 30.06 sign and open carry by posting a 30.07 sign.
One pro-gun website, Texas3006.com, has started tracking places that have posted such signs. Another site, Gun Free Businesses, have started listing places that have not – presuming that they support open carry policies.
Walmart has instructed its employees to grab a manager when they see someone carrying a firearm in the store, to check to see whether the patrons have proper gun permits.
And other establishments – such as local zoos – are still grappling with how to interpret such laws, particularly in places where children walk in and out every day.
Still, some Texas business-owners are all for the law, and have even come up with ways to promote it.
When Brooks, 46, announced that his Houston-based smokehouse, Brooks’ Place, would welcome firearms, he was met with both compliments and criticism.
Brooks had posted a photo on social media earlier this month showing the sign posted outside of his barbecue joint:
We support the new law because it eliminates the fear of gun owners being charged with a crime because someone happens to see the print of the firearm. Or because the wind blows to hard and exposes the firearm. Or because we’re shopping at the local Home Depot and you reach for something and the firearm is exposed accidentally and get arrested.
“I applaud your courage and American spirit!” one Facebook user wrote. “God Bless you and your business!”
“This has bad idea written all over it,” another wrote. “Please tell me when would anyone need to use a gun for any reason in a restaurant? TX you are about to lose a lot of business in your state.”
Then, this week, Brooks said received a threat on social media from someone who warned that he was going to “shoot up the place” over the weekend.
Brooks said he alerted the Harris County Sheriff’s Department but would remain open over the weekend with “added security.”
“We do not think this is a legitimate threat but unfortunately as we know craziness and evil does exist,” Brooks told customers on his business’s Facebook page.
“We are not in the gun business. We are in the food business and we will continue to serve you the highest quality food possible,” he added in a statement Friday morning. “We understand that some may be deterred by this and we understand. However we would ask that you not allow this to overshadow our goal of serving you, our customers quality and good food.
“Should we lose any customers because of this our message to you is our door is open for you today and tomorrow just as it was yesterday and past days.”
Indeed, police say there will be a learning curve as citizens and authorities become accustomed to the open-carry era.
Officials in Killeen, near Fort Hood, even released an instructional video to help people adjust.
“It will become common to see individuals exercising the right to carry a handgun openly,” an officer says in the clip. “Citizens should not necessarily be alarmed at the sight of an armed individual.”
He adds: “It is also important for citizens who choose not to carry a handgun not interfere with the rights of those who do.”