February 4, 2016
Why a Texas bookstore wants you to bring your gun shopping
by Liam O’Brien
As of the first of this year, residents of Texas, as well as visitors with a proper license, are now legally allowed to carry firearms in public. Visible guns and mixed feelings swiftly surfaced everywhere, and dozens of Texas businesses responded by publicly announcing they would exercise their legal right to ban open carrying customers from their stores. Moms Demand Action coordinated this anti-open-carry local business campaign, and provided clear instructions for any businesses seeking to restrict open carry.
Among the businesses banning open carry are two Austin book retailers, Book People and Half Price Books. This comes as no surprise, Austin (and bookstores) being the bastion of liberalism that they are.
But then came the news that another Austin bookstore doesn’t just allow open carry, the bookstore actively encourages it. Initially written about by Shelf Awareness, the story was picked up by Brittany E. Shulman for KVUE:
Brave New Books is offering a 10 percent discount to all customers open-carrying in their store.
The store is also hosting an open-carry symposium on Jan. 30 to help Texas residents learn more about open-carry legislation.
(…) The bookstore, located next to the University of Texas campus, said in a press release that they are the only bookstore in Austin to allow open-carry.
“We appreciate it when people take security and defense in to their own hands. In a world where mass shootings are happening more and more, when seconds count, it’s up to we the people to protect our community,” said Brave New Books general manager John Bush in a press release.
We’ve written about bookstores taking political stands (and librarians doing the same), and it’s important that they continue to do so. It’s both an enduring reminder that indie bookstores have a freedom to advocate that’s impossible for large corporate retailers, and that bookstores play a crucial role in not just selling culture, but shaping it.
However, this doesn’t look like a political stand, but rather a canny marketing stunt that preaches to the converted. Brave New Books, whose Twitter bio states correctly, albeit ironically, that “books are weapons in the war of ideas,” caters to a particular and avowedly liberatarian clientele. Bush himself is a vocal activist and one-time Tea Partier who spearheads a program called “Lone Star Libertopia” to encourage libertarian activists to set up shop in Central Texas. Brave New Books was memorably described by Mother Jones as “sell[ing] volumes on homesteading and crypto-anarchism alongside nutritional supplements and water filtration systems.” (According to their website, they do not stock My Parents’ Open Carry.)
Using the new open carry law—and its ensuing controversy—to tout the virtues of your specialty bookstore is good marketing, but it doesn’t carry the political risk it might should a general-interest bookstore provide a similar incentive to bring guns shopping. However, hosting a symposium at the store sounds like a sage and well-intentioned follow up. Yet there remains a core challenge in discussing guns: it’s hard to have an open, honest, and multivalent conversation about them when they’re strapped to the hip of the person facing you.
We asked Jeremy Ellis, the general manager of the great Brazos Bookstore in Houston, how his store is approaching the new law and the broader conversation about firearm safety:
We posted signs on January 1 to restrict open carry in Brazos Bookstore. I have always believed that bookstores are forums for all ideas, but I also understand that the free exchange of those ideas can be hindered (in not entirely obstructed) when one party in the conversation holds a deadly weapon.
I would rather regulate the guns than the conversation, so we respectfully request that all our patrons leave their firearms at home or in their cars while shopping with us.
For the most part, I never expect this to be an issue. But as the new law came into effect, I decided that we should be compliant with the legal signage to restrict open carry on our premises to head any trouble off at the pass. Now, if someone does open carry, I can direct them to leave and if they do not, they are the lawbreaker and must deal with whatever consequence that entails.
Wise words are weapons in the war against bluster about weapons.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.