SEDGWICK, Maine — From now on, any customer who might be packing heat at one of Michael Rossney’s restaurants better be armed with a bottle of hot sauce, not a firearm.
In response to a new state law that allows people to carry concealed firearms without a permit, Rossney, who with his wife, Michele Levesque, owns and operates El El Frijoles on Route 15 in Sedgwick and Dudley’s Refresher on the town pier in Castine, has decided to officially adopt a “no guns” policy at the businesses.
The law that took effect earlier this month has not provoked an outcry among eatery owners, according to industry officials, and some places have put up signs saying people are welcome to bring their guns inside. But that didn’t stop Rossney, who moved to Maine in 2007 from Oakland, California, from going on Facebook earlier this month to voice his opinions on the matter.
In his post, which then prompted a back-and-forth dialogue of comments from Rossney and others, the restaurateur said that, given the relative lack of gun violence in Maine, it does not make sense to him to dissolve the requirement to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, the application for which requires applicants to truthfully answer certain questions about themselves. Allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit, he said, is not likely to make Maine any safer than it already is.
“It is hard to think that allowing anyone 21 or older (or 18 in some cases) to carry a loaded, concealed firearm is going to make any sort of positive impact on our society,” Rossney posted on the social media site.
Rossney said his customers should leave firearms in their secured vehicles “or we will execute our right to not serve you.” Certified law enforcement officers will not be subject to the firearms ban at the eateries, he added.
Maine continues to issue concealed weapons permits due to reciprocity agreements it has with other states where such permits are required. Maine law has long allowed people who are not prohibited from possessing firearms to carry them in plain sight without a permit.
Rossney said Tuesday that the feedback he has received on his post has been nearly all positive. He acknowledged that he likely won’t know whether a customer is carrying a concealed weapon and said he does not plan to check customers as they walk in the door. His stance, he said, is based more on principle than practicality.
In the case of Dudley’s, he admitted, trying to enforce a ban would be challenging. The seasonal business has no publicly accessible interior space — customers order at a window and then eat outside — and it is located on the town dock, which is public property.
“I don’t have a problem with people who are permitted carrying a gun,” Rossney said. But now that a permit is not required, he added, he believes his businesses will be safer if customers don’t bring them when they get out of their cars.
Part of his feelings on the matter, he said, were shaped by his experience living in California with his wife before moving to Maine. Guns were prevalent in their Oakland neighborhood, he said, and gun violence was a daily fact of life, even once resulting in someone being shot to death right outside their house.
The gun violence in Oakland, he said, was one reason they decided to move to Maine.
“It takes a lot of energy having to worry about that all the time,” he said. “We weren’t going to have a child living in that environment.”
Rossney compared the issue of requiring weapons permits to operating a motor vehicle. If someone drives into the El El Frijoles parking lot, which is right next to his house, he said, he assumes that they have taken a driver’s education course and have a valid driver’s license, that they have liability insurance on the vehicle and that it has passed inspection to ensure that it is in decent physical condition.
A similar approach, he said, should be used to regulate guns which, despite the new state law, still cannot be carried into bars, schools, courthouses, federal buildings, state parks, Acadia National Park, or the buildings or grounds of the State Capitol complex in Augusta.
State law also bars carrying a concealed weapon on private property when prohibited by the property owner, Rossney added.
Rossney said he has not posted signs at his businesses about his new policy, though he did look online for signs similar to what he saw posted at many businesses during a recent trip to Chicago. He did not rule out posting such signs in the future.
There are other places in Maine where people conduct business that have taken the opposite approach. In a recent interview with Village Soup, Washington Town Clerk Ann Dean said she put up a sign at the town office saying “guns are welcome” but then removed it after it generated media attention and, according to the article, became a distraction.
Athens Pizzeria in Thomaston used to offer a discount to customers who brought in their concealed carry permits with them. Jeraimie Finnemore said Wednesday that he and his brother recently purchased the business and decided to do away with that discount for financial reasons, but they still offer discounts to members of the military and promote themselves as gun friendly.
A stenciled message on the wall of the pizzeria says “2nd Amendment friendly, lawful concealed/open carry encouraged.”
Finnemore said he is a gun owner but doesn’t have an issue with any business owner who might adopt a no-guns policy. Private property owners have that right, he said.
“We are a gun-friendly business,” Finnemore said.
Greg Dugal of the Maine Restaurant Association said Thursday that the new law has not generated a single phone call from an association member to his office. A change in the law in 2011 that allows employees with concealed weapons permits to keep firearms in their locked vehicles at work prompted more concern than this law has so far, he said.
But, Dugal said, that could change. If an incident were to occur — he did not provide an example — it could generate more concern within the industry.
“I think it was a mistake,” Dugal said of eliminating the permit requirement for concealed weapons. “But I’m not sure it will manifest into something bigger, and I hope it doesn’t.”
Peter Gore, vice president of public relations for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that he has received “maybe a dozen” calls in the last two weeks from businesses that have concerns about the new law. While that may not be a large number, he said, the fact that the issue is generating calls at all usually means there are others out there with similar feelings on the subject who have not contacted the Chamber.
“It’s an issue of concern,” Gore said. “If I get phone calls about a piece of legislation that has become law, it is not insignificant.”
Gore said the new law does not change the 2011 law that limits the ability of employees to bring firearms to work. With the 2011 law, employees of businesses that ban their workers from bringing guns to work can still leave their weapons locked in their vehicles in workplace parking lots as long as they have a concealed weapons permit.
If a business has such a ban in place, he said, those employees still could face workplace discipline if they bring their weapons inside the business or if they leave their weapon locked outside in their car but do not have a concealed weapons permit.
Some of the inquiries have been from businesses concerned about customers who might bring weapons inside their facilities, Gore said, but concealed weapons permit holders have been everyday customers at many businesses for years. He said he does not expect businesses now will start screening customers as they walk in.
“I don’t think that is likely to happen,” he said.
The group Gun Owners of Maine, a proponent of doing away with the concealed carry permit requirement, maintains a list of “ gun-unfriendly businesses” on its website. Eight businesses are listed, including shopping malls in Bangor, Presque Isle, and South Portland. Rossney’s restaurants are not on the list.
Todd Tolhurst, president of the organization and proprietor of a firearms dealership in South China, said Wednesday that the businesses listed on the group’s website had their policies and signage in place before the new law went into effect, most likely as a legal protection in the event of a lawsuit. He said the information on the group’s website is posted as a service to its members and to the businesses listed as a way to prevent misunderstandings.
Tolhurst said he respects the rights of private property owners to set rules for their home or business, but added that his group would prefer not to have legally possessed firearms banned from any business. He said there would be more outrage if it was something other than guns that some businesses prohibited.
“If [a sign] said ‘no children’ or ‘no crucifixes,’ people certainly would be upset by it,” Tolhurst said. “There are gun owners who don’t appreciate their business not being wanted. Those customers simply will go elsewhere.”
Tolhurst said he had not heard of any businesses that, like Rossney’s restaurants, have banned firearms because of the new law, but he added it is not surprising that there would be some people expressing concern in the wake of the new law going into effect.
Citing Vermont’s long-term lack of any concealed carry permit requirement, he predicted that the new state law will not lead to any complications.
“We’re not going to have a problem here in Maine,” Tolhurst said. “These jitters will pass.”