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Should Storeowners Allow Shoppers to Carry Firearms?

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Contributor Tori Telfer looks into the new 'no guns' signs in Chicago store windows.

Photo: Tori Telfer

Say you've always dreamed of opening up a coffee shop. You emptied out your savings account, threw a very successful Kickstarter campaign, practiced latte art till you could foam milk in your sleep, and even found the perfect thrift store paintings to hang on your (exposed brick) walls. You're opening tomorrow. The espresso machines are polished. The Facebook event is booming. All you have to do is ask yourself one last question: guns or no guns?

The question is one that Chicago business owners haven't had to seriously grapple with before this year. In January, the Firearm Concealed Carry Act kicked into effect throughout Illinois; in short, the act allows your average Joe to carry a concealed firearm on his person or in his car, provided he pass certain standards (think gun training, over 21, not convicted of a misdemeanor involving violence within the past 5 years, not a threat to himself or society, etc.). Concealed firearms are not allowed in places like schools, airports, or government property, nor are they permitted anywhere that gets more than 50% of its profits from the sale of alcohol (bars, clubs, ridiculously boozy restaurants). However, average Joe can bring that concealed gun into his favorite local coffee shop—unless the owner hangs up the correct sign.

Photo: via Saftesign

The sign, approved by the Illinois State Police, is 4x6 inches, text-free, and chillingly austere: a black handgun on a white background with a red slash through the weapon. Property owners are responsible for posting the sign, though they can designate the responsibility to their lessees. You can spot it on the doors of Dusek's, in the window of the Instituto Cervantes, in Powell's Bookstore. Its message is clear: no guns allowed.

Though the thought of having firearms inside their stores is anathema to many of Chicago's business owners, they still feel conflicted about the sign itself. Will they post it? Yes. Are they happy about it? No.

"If we're in a position where not having that sign up is an invitation to bring guns into our place of learning and playful lightheartedness—where we work very hard to build a space that resists violence and symbols of violence—well, we have no choice but to put it up," says Molly Walsh, manager of The Boring Store, which hosts the children's nonprofit 826CHI. "Obviously we can't have people bringing guns in. But, because the atmosphere of the spy store—and 826 as a whole—is meant to be magical and fun, I'm dreading the claim to innocence that we will have to forfeit by posting such a strong symbol in our entryway."

See, the sign itself brings with it a certain darkness. It's a stark image of a gun, after all. The associations are frightening, triggering, melancholic. "Having a picture of a gun on the window is scary for people to see, but it will be a common visual soon," says Emily Dlugolecka of Andersonville's Mr. & Mrs. Digz. "It's unfortunate that this is what we have come to as a society. It's very sad." Sure, all that's technically required of business owners is a few minutes with some Scotch tape, but they're still antsy. The whole deal is a bit unpleasant. Powell's asked not to be involved in a "political debate" about the issue. A store in Pilsen responded to my inquiry simply by saying, "My partner and I...would prefer to take a pass on this subject. It's far too controversial."

Photo: Powell's via Facebook

But the consensus among owners appears to be that the negative connotations of the sign are far better than the alternative: allowing firearms into their stores. Powell's Bookstore has had the signs up for about a month, citing the decision as a "fairly obvious" one (according to Chris Salmon, a manager at the Hyde Park location). Another pro-sign factor? Owners could be held responsible if they don't post the sign and a gun-related incident takes place on their premises. (Regarding this concern, the Illinois State Police say that they "cannot give legal advice to private business owners.")

Sign or no sign, the passing of the Firearm Concealed Carry Act forces business owners to examine their stance on an issue that may never have been on the table before. No matter their position on gun law, they'd better make their decisions quickly; ABC reports that the first permits could be issued as early as this week. As the signs pop up all over Chicago, it'll be hard for customers to ignore the issue, too. Though gun law may be the last thing you want to think about on your Saturday morning coffee run, the sign will be there in the coffee shop window soon enough. And you'll think about it.
· 430 ILCS 66/ Firearm Concealed Carry Act [Illinois General Assembly]

Powell's Bookstores University Village

1218 S. Halsted, Chicago, IL 60607 312-243-9070