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Gunowners say they are turning their backs on Hills Grocery stores after the announcement that firearms are no longer welcome in any of the company’s stores.
The Whiteville-based retailer began posting signs prohibiting open or concealed carry this week, leading to an uproar among customers.
State law allows private businesses to prohibit open or concealed carry, if a notice is posted on the main entries into the business. N.C. General Statute 14-415.11 states that “On any private premises where notice that carrying a concealed handgun is prohibited by the posting of a conspicuous notice or statement by the person in legal possession or control of the premises.”
In a statement released Wednesday morning on social media, Hills Vice President Terry Faulk said the chain received “numerous complaints about individuals open carrying weapons” in stores, “causing both employees and customers to feel unsafe.”
Faulk wrote that the company has received numerous “concerns” regarding the weapons policy, which prohibits any individual from carrying a firearm in any Hills store. He said the company “wanted to give the issue careful consideration before addressing it further.”
“The current policy was reviewed by ownership and senior management and it has been collectively decided to maintain the current policy prohibiting all weapons on our premises regardless of a concealed carry permit.
Faulk did not return a request for comment when contacted Tuesday.
Hills at Lake Waccamaw has been the scene of two shootings and three deaths.
In 2002, a man shot and killed his wife, who was an employee at the store, then killed himself on Valentine’s Day. In 2004, store manager Richard Wilson opened fire on Kenny Bethea Jr. when Bethea attempted to force Wilson and several other employees into a store office. Wilson did not draw his weapon until the workers were cornered by Bethea. The shooting was ruled self-defense.
North Carolina allows open carry of weapons by anyone legally capable of owning a firearm. To carry a concealed firearm, the individual must complete an eight-hour course, submit to a more extensive background check than those required for regular gun purchases, and undergo a mental health evaluation. The state’s concealed carry law prohibits felons, domestic violence defendants, and numerous others from carrying concealed.
Hills’ move brought sharp criticism from many customers via social media.
When Columbuscountynews.com asked for opinions on whether the policy would influence customer choice, virtually every respondent said that when confronted by a “no guns” sign, they will go elsewhere, or ignore the rule. Respondents from both Columbus and Brunswick counties, as well as Cumberland and Robeson, replied to the post on the CCN Facebook page.
None of the respondents said a “no guns” rule would make them more likely to frequent a business.
“I went thru the correct process to legally get my concealed carry,” said Santana Mills of Hallsboro. “I did everything as I’m required and I follow all the rules regarding my gun. But if there is a No Guns Allowed then do not expect me to shop at your business anymore. I currently avoid most businesses that don’t allow concealed carry anyway.”
“Years ago I quit eating at establishment’s that installed no smoking ‘signs’,” Ramona Sweerus of Chadbourn said. “Turns out, I have to cook and eat at home or cave (in). I frown upon the No Guns Allowed policy. One could save an employee’s life or two.”
“I pay it no attention,” said Edward Ward of Whiteville. “If you carry concealed, who’s going to know?’
Eddie Cox said he carries to protect his family, and will do so regardless.
“Nobody knows what’s in/on our person these days anyway,” he wrote. “The No Guns Allowed is just a political move by uneducated people who really don’t understand what freedom is. I’m fully a Second Amendment supporter. I also understand that a private business should be able to dictate what they will allow inside. Personally, I’m going to shop there whether there’s a sign or not. It’s not like they are going to frisk me. Plus, I’m not carrying for their protection, just mine and my family.”
Clara Worrell of Whiteville said she felt any company that banned firearms “would regret the decision later.
“I support lawful gun owners,” she wrote. “Normally they aren’t criminals!”
“It would make me not want to shop there,” said Shana Calder Cribb of Whiteville.
Columbus County resident Jackie Whitehead pointed out that laws are often ignored by criminals.
“The bad guys with the guns don’t care,” she wrote. “The good guys with the guns would probably abide by the sign.”
Firearms trainer Danny Gonzalez of Bolivia said local businesses should be more receptive to their customers’ values.
“Most of these businesses, especially local businesses, make millions on the backs of lawabiding Second Amendment supporters. For a business like Hills food store to state that no weapons allowed regardless of CCW status is a slap in the face to gunowners.
“In North Carolina you must pass an eight-hour long class, (including) shooting qualification and a long criminal background just to be able to get a CCW permit.
“So for a business to say ‘we want your money but can’t trust you carrying’ is plain wrong. None of these businesses that put up signs like this provide security for patrons. You expect stuff like this in liberal states or in liberal counties like New Hanover and Wake but not in Brunswick and Columbus.
“If it was a business like Starbucks that I will never shop in I wouldn’t care, but hills is a store many of us use or better yet used to use.”
Wesley Ward of Beaverdam said he doesn’t plan to shop at Hills again until the rule is changed.
“Maybe if we let the ‘establishment’ in question know our opinions they will rethink the policy,” he wrote. “Nothing will be done until we let them know our thoughts on the situation.
“Being in a heavily 2A (Second Amendment) county, where pretty much everyone carries, and them just being a locally owned business is a bad recipe for them going under. If they change the policy, and remove the signs I’ll go back doing business with them.”
Fayetteville resident Kevin Smith said the rule does nothing to prevent crime, and that he would take his business elsewhere.
“I don’t believe that this is fair nor respectful towards the community of people who tend to carry guns which are usually hard-working, law-abiding Americans,” he wrote. “If a business posts a sign stating no firearms allowed, I keep moving down the line, because me and my family’s safety means more than the establishment… it screams to every would-be criminal that nobody inside will put up a fight.
“I do not like to use my hard-earned money in places that support things like:
1 Leaving me and others defenseless.
2 marking themselves as a victim rich environment.
3 cater to political advances over individual rights.”
A retired law enforcement officer, who asked that his name not be used, said prohibiting firearms in stores creates an opportunity for thieves, as well as a danger for gunowners.
“Before I go into a gun-free business, I have to unholster my weapon,” he said. “Anytime you remove a handgun from its holster, or handle any firearm, there is a safety hazard. I have to put it under the seat of my truck or otherwise secure it. Then I have to reholster it when I get back in my vehicle.
“Thieves randomly hit vehicles all the time, and guns are one of their favorite things to steal. So somebody sees me put my gun under the seat, breaks the window, then takes my gun into the store to rob it. How does that make things safer?”
Santana Mills reemphasized that her family’s safety and rights are more important than loyalty to a store she has shopped at for years.
“I do everything by the book to be able to carry legally,” she wrote. “I’m definitely not a danger to anyone. But I’m also not gullible because there is danger in this world and those no weapons signs are not going to deter someone from carrying in the store if they have plans to do something awful.
“So now the store is willing to risk everyone by not allowing someone that is legally and safely carrying to possibly be helpful in a dangerous situation.”