NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG - Get Report) was all over the news this week but not for its newest tasty dish, earnings or stock movement.
Instead, the fast casual restaurant chain, with over 1,600 stores, found itself caught in the crossfire of debate on the right to carry guns, including into your local restaurant. Since this company depends on getting customers through the door, Chipotle has found itself walking a fine line on this issue.
After photos surfaced of pro-gun activists bringing their assault rifles into a Chipotle restaurant in Texas, a campaign was launched to ban guns from all Chipotle locations. A petition from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America gathered over 10,000 signatures from people upset about seeing guns in the Chipotle. Moms Demand Action was started after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. The group has over 110,000 members.
Chipotle has responded by asking customers not to bring firearms into any of its restaurants. The chain acknowledges that guns in its restaurants could be "potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers." But Chipotle also said "there are strong arguments on both sides of the issue." A Twitter campaign using the hashtag #BurritosNotBullets was launched.
It doesn't help that Chipotle was in the middle of a February incident in Utah when a man dropped a bag and his weapon accidentally discharged in the restaurant. No one was injured from the bullet hitting the floor. The incident gave anti-gun groups like Moms Demand Action "ammo" about the potential dangers of guns in restaurants, which was further primed by the recent Texas incident.
Chipotle is headquartered in Denver. The state is home to two of the most gruesome shootings of the last 25 years -- Columbine High School and the Aurora theater shooting.
Chipotle isn't the first restaurant to be a target of pro-gun groups. In 2013, Starbucks (SBUX) restaurants were the target of pro-gun supporters, who even launched a "Starbucks Appreciation Day" where people were asked to take pictures of themselves with guns and Starbucks drinks. The popular coffee chain had to issue a statement that it was not behind the movement and later asked customers to leave their guns at home when coming to a Starbucks.
One particularly difficult issue for Starbucks was the decision to close one store for several days to head off pro-gun activists who had planned several demonstrations in Newtown, Conn. -- yes, where the school shooting took place.