A restaurant named Shooters Grill in a town named Rifle advertises concealed carry classes with dinner. No editor could pass up that story.
We didn’t know until Post Independent correspondent Heidi Rice went to the restaurant that the servers typically have loaded guns holstered to their hips — which only made the story more interesting.
Good stories lie outside the ordinary — man bites dog — and among true believers. Lauren Boebert, who owns Shooters with her husband, Jason, is a true believer. She believes in a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment, and she believes in God.
She told Rice, “This country was founded on freedom. People can come in carrying their gun and they can pray over their food.”
We published the story in the paper and on postindependent.com on June 27, shared it on Facebook and Twitter, and created a bit of a sensation.
The Associated Press distributed our story in the United States and Canada. The Washington Post had a reporter call Lauren Boebert and quoted our story. Fox News, MSNBC, USA Today and a range of TV crews chased the story.
Jimmy Kimmel riffed on the idea of armed waitresses on his late-night TV show.
And a host of websites, most of them conservative and/or gun rights sites — Who knew there’s a site called girlsjustwannahaveguns.com? — shared or copied our story.
This being a story about guns, it fell right into the great polarized divide that is America today. Letters and Facebook comments flew, some mean-spirited. We have printed some letters on each side and won’t run certain others, and have come under criticism from readers who thought we were endorsing open carry.
A reader unhappy about the story shared with my bosses that “I detest [the new editor’s] point of view.”
Maybe that had to do with the column I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Carbondale roundabout, because neither the paper nor I indicated a point of view about the Shooters story.
I’m not a gun owner. My older brother was shot through the hand and wrist in a drunken dust-up when I was 12, and I had a gun pulled on me once when I worked in a gas station in college. I lived six years in downtown Detroit without a gun, often walking to work. I don’t think a gun would improve my life, but others are of course free to make the opposite choice.
As to the story, we told it straight, about a business that is taking an unusual approach and in doing so has made its position clear on an issue of much public discussion. Where some businesses have fought back against the open-carry movement, Shooters has gone the other way.
We sought and included comment from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. We talked to the Rifle police chief and Garfield County sheriff, both of whom support Shooters’ practice since the place doesn’t serve alcohol. We reached out to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which said it did not comment on stories of this nature, whatever that means.
We told the story and left it to readers — from Jimmy Kimmel to guns.com — to interpret.
The story stirred up both some criticism and some business for Shooters — Lauren Boebert told me she ran out of food Wednesday. Whether the business succeeds in the long run, of course, will have nothing to do with the story, and the Boeberts’ approach to their business isn’t going to change America’s gun debate.
The story, no more and no less, provided a window into an interesting slice of life in America today.
And America today is polarized, perhaps our single biggest problem. The solution, I firmly believe, is the same as the solution to bigotry: Get to know the people who are different from you. It’s much harder to vilify them.
I had a meeting in Rifle a couple days after Rice was at Shooters, so I went by for breakfast. I wanted to tell the owners — who had not sought the story — that Shooters was likely to get a lot of attention. Lauren Boebert, who’s as genuine a person as you’ll meet, told me how she chose the name and renovated the space.
She and I don’t have a lot of experiences in common, but when she showed me the corner of her restaurant dedicated to her grandfather, we had a connection. Her “Papa” was a fisherman and a big fan of the Florida Gators, just like my dad was a fisherman and big fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. If I decorated a space dedicated to my dad, it would have many similar elements.
And that underscored that we all have more in common than we often even try to recognize.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.