In mid-December, the 15th in country superstar Toby Keith’s growing restaurant chain opened its doors in the North Virginia town of Woodbridge, around 20 miles south of Washington, D.C.
It didn’t take long for diners to notice a sign some saw as incongruous on the door of the self-proclaimed cowboy’s I Love This Bar & Grill: “No Guns Permitted.”
The singer’s team posted the following statement on the restaurant’s Facebook page on Saturday, after days of social media questions and complaints:
While we understand and respect every person’s right to own and bear arms, we at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, with guidance from the State of Virginia and based on insurance regulations, have adopted a no weapons policy. It is our desire to provided a safe, enjoyable and entertaining experience for our patrons and staff.
While some gun control activists have posted notes of gratitude underneath the restaurant’s announcement, there are plenty of angry Keith fans and Second Amendment advocates expressing their ire on Facebook:
Virginia is an open carry state, meaning gun enthusiasts are welcome to brandish their weapons openly — except within private premises or businesses that enact a ban.
It’s worth noting that Keith’s involvement in his own chain — named after one of his biggest hits — varies by location. As my colleague Zack O’Malley Greenburg explained in his cover story on Keith’s $500 million empire, the country crooner owns a big chunk of both the land and eatery in Oklahoma City, some 20 minutes from his house.
“For others he strikes licensing agreements with large operators for a flat fee, a cut of revenues or both,” wrote Greenburg. Ownership structure aside, Forbes estimates Keith pulls in $12 million a year from his restaurants.
Keith’s Woodbridge outpost is just the latest business to find itself in the proverbial crosshairs of the divisive gun rights debate. In September, with mounting pressure from gun control groups including Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense, Starbucks’ billionaire founder Howard Schultz announced firearms were no longer welcome in his coffee shops. The Seattle-based java giant had found itself playing host, unwittingly, to pro-gun rallies in its stores.
After their success lobbying Starbucks, Moms Demand Action has set their sights on office supply chain Staples, where there is no explicit corporate policy banning guns.
The gun reform group was formed the day after the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook and now boasts a membership of over 110,000 grassroots activists. Its founder, Shannon Watts, posted on Keith’s restaurant page shortly after the gun ban announcement: “Mothers of America thank you!”