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New Old West: The Colorado restaurant where everyone carries a gun

Big businesses like Target and Starbucks are asking customers to please leave your guns at home. Not so at Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colorado.

Much of the political and philosophical fight over guns in America is about appearances and perception.

Some gun owners assert their Second Amendment rights by openly (and legally) carrying their firearms in public. If the sight of someone walking around town armed with a loaded handgun, rifle, or shotgun – a civilian, not a law enforcement officer – is startling, then so be it. The point has been made.

Meanwhile, gun control advocates, stymied in their efforts to get Congress to pass stricter measures, have been pressuring major commercial establishments to ask their gun-toting patrons to leave the weaponry at home.

Target, one of the largest US retailers, is the latest to respond to a signature-gathering effort – 400,000 names – organized by a group called “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America,” which was formed in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut.

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Target thus joins Chili’s, Starbucks, Chipotle, Sonic, and Jack in the Box in asking customers to not bring firearms into their establishments.

“We’ve listened carefully to the nuances of this debate and respect the protected rights of everyone involved,” Target CEO John Mulligan explained on the company blog the other day. “In return, we are asking for help in fulfilling our goal to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for our guests and team members.”

Then there’s Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colo.

At Shooters, open display of firearms is encouraged. A sign on the front door reads, “Guns are welcome on premises. Please keep all weapons holstered, unless the need arises. In such cases, judicious marksmanship is appreciated.”

Owners Lauren and Jayson Boebert carry guns on the job, as do the servers.

As the local newspaper, The Post Independent, puts it: “When waitress Ashlee Saenz takes your order at Shooters Grill in Rifle, she not only carries a pad and pen – she also packs a loaded Ruger .357 Blackhawk handgun holstered on her leg, Old West style. It’s loaded and she knows how to use it.”

There may be an Old West style to the grill’s décor and menu (half-pound Angus beef burgers are very popular) but the business plan is New West and apparently successful. So successful that on Sunday morning, the Boeberts posted this on their Facebook page:

“Alright folks!!! After having 7 deliveries in 5 days we are SOLD OUT OF FOOD!! We have breakfast items, but we cannot supply the quality of food which we normal have for lunch. We do not want anyone to be cut short on the quality/presentation of their meal. So TODAY WE CLOSING AT 11:00am!!! We will get a new delivery tomorrow at 5am. So come in hungry and we will feed you right!! Have a great day everyone!”

The restaurant also hosts concealed carry training that qualifies customers for Colorado and Utah permits. The $75 price tag includes dinner.

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As she explained it to the local newspaper, Boebert said she is simply allowing customers and employees to exercise their constitutional right.

“We encourage it, and the customers love that they can come here and express their rights,” she said. “This country was founded on our freedom. People can come in carrying their gun, and they can pray over their food.”

“I consulted with my Christian friends and everyone said ‘Shooters’ sounded like a bar or a strip joint,” Ms. Boebert said. “But I thought, this is Rifle – it was founded around guns and the Old West. We called it Shooters and started throwing guns and Jesus all over the place.”

The restaurant does not serve alcohol, which makes local law enforcement officials happy.

“If it was a bar, I might be saying something different. But I have no problem with it,” Police Chief John Dyer told the Post Independent. “And besides, they make a really good burger.”

Says Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, “Guns and alcohol, just like alcohol and driving, are not a good mix together.”

“This is a complicated issue,” Mr. Mulligan, the Target CEO (whose company logo is a bull’s-eye), wrote in his blog post, “but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.”

Not so, says Lauren Boebert, who notes that some customers think the guns are just part of a costume designed to fit in with the Western motif.

“No, they’re real and they’re loaded, and we know what we’re doing,” she says. “I fear for anyone who tries to rob us.”