Now It's Chipotle Mexican Grill's Turn to Snipe at Gun Owners

Restaurant chain asks gun owners not to openly carry firearms in its stores, even where it's legal to do so

Jun 1, 2014 at 8:27AM

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Following a petition by the gun-control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, fast casual Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) shot from the hip and said if you're legally carrying a firearm, thanks, but no thanks, we don't want your business. 

Just as happened at Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) before, which also said it didn't want lawful gun owners openly carrying their weapons in its stores, Chipotle said it would implement a ban following a meeting of gun rights advocates at one of its Texas restaurants -- where it's perfectly legal to openly carry a firearm -- who displayed scary "military style assault weapons." Because some patrons were allegedly intimidated by all presence of the guns, the restaurant was asking firearms owners not to carry them in its stores.

Chipotle said it normally follows local laws in deciding its course of action, but after receiving the petition by the antigun group, though, it seems the Mexican restaurant chain felt the need to object.

The vast majority of gun owners are responsible citizens and we appreciate them honoring this request. And we hope that our customers who oppose the carrying of guns in public agree with us that it is the role of elected officials and the legislative process to set policy in this area, not the role of businesses like Chipotle.

Unlike Starbucks, though, whose CEO Howard Schultz said the company wasn't going to do anything if a gun owner entered a coffee shop carrying a firearm anyway, Chipotle hasn't clarified how it would respond if someone did come into its stores with one.

Twice in its appeal Chipotle used evocative language to describe the guns as "military style assault weapons," even though they are nothing more than regular rifles with cosmetic accoutrements. An AR-15, for example, one of the most popular kind of so-called "assault rifles," is no more powerful or deadly than your standard hunting rifle except for the addition of scary-looking (to some) barrel shrouds, folding stocks, and pistol grips. And though many assume the "AR" in the model name means "assault rifle," it does not. Rather it refers to "Armalite rifle," a gun based on the designs of the ArmaLite small arms engineering company.

Although gun owners will likely respect Chipotle's wishes, they'll also just as likely no longer patronize its stores, though it won't have much effect on business. Sales at Starbucks continue to rise despite promises by many gun owners not to darken the coffee shop's doors any more. Last quarter U.S. same store sales grew a healthy 6% over the year ago period, indicating it's still getting plenty of repeat business. Chipotle will undoubtedly be similarly unfazed, though it is heavily represented in Texas with 119 stores located in the state, or over 7% of its nearly 1,600 units.

Chipotle, like Starbucks, says it doesn't want to be dragged into a political debate and asks those on both sides to respect the rights of others, yet it thrusts itself deep into the gun-control argument by siding with one group over the other. Nevertheless, since businesses believe they would feel a financial loss from gun owners boycotting their stores they have little fear of the consequences. 

Considering Chipotle Mexican Grill had just received thank yous from gun owners for supporting their right to carry firearms, the weapons ban has to feel like they were just shot in the back.

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Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill and Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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