The company that owns most of Southern Arizona’s Pizza Huts has reversed policy and is allowing customers to carry firearms into the restaurants if they are legal possessors.

Patrick McKinney, vice president of operations for Tucson-based Pizza Hut of Arizona, said he began reconsidering the company’s policy of prohibiting guns after reading a newspaper article about the state’s new concealed-carry law.

That law, which goes into effect July 29, allows people 21 or older (and not prohibited from having a firearm) to carry a concealed gun without a permit.

McKinney and his staff held a meeting about the issue and began to remove the restaurants’ signs banning firearms during the first week of June, he said in a written reply to questions.

The issue of customers with firearms is confronting private business owners as Arizona’s gun laws become more liberal, and as gun-rights advocates press for public acceptance of carried firearms.

The issue may be particularly poignant in the case of Tucson Pizza Huts. In 1999, three employees of a Pizza Hut near the corner of East Broadway and Pantano roads were shot to death in an attempted robbery by two teens.

“We will never forget the tragedy of those murders in 1999 and what happened may have shaped our feelings about guns forever,” McKinney wrote.

The new policy doesn’t apply to employees, who won’t be able to carry guns at work. “For safety reasons we have always had a ‘no weapon’ policy (while working) for all of us at Pizza Hut of Arizona,” McKinney wrote.

The company has about 1,000 employees at restaurants in Southern Arizona, Yuma and Flagstaff.

Arizona law allows most adults over 21 to carry a firearm openly but has placed greater restrictions on carrying a gun concealed. Until the new law goes into effect, a person still must have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The exceptions to these laws are prohibited possessors such as felons whose rights have not been restored, and visitors and students from other countries.

Alcohol adds an additional complexity to Arizona’s gun laws and is relevant to Pizza Hut’s decision in that many of the restaurants serve alcohol. Establishments that sell alcohol must permit the concealed carry of weapons by legal possessors unless they post a state-approved sign banning them. However, a person carrying a firearm may not drink alcohol while on the premises.

Source: Tim Steller for Arizona Daily Star.

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