Chris Walsh didn’t set out to punish businesses that don’t allow him to carry his concealed handgun. He’s just a software designer from Richmond, Va. He started the website Friend or Foein 2009 to keep track of where he could shop and eat without running afoul of business policies and local regulations. But then gun owners started using his website. As word got out on gun-rights blogs, people began adding more business ratings to Friend or Foe, highlighting the establishments that ban firearms and those that don’t. Before long, Walsh found he’d become an activist, and his fast-growing website was helping to fortify a civil-liberties movement. He’s okay with that. He has big plans for how to separate friends of the Second Amendment from foes.
His latest deed was integrating Google-mapping software. Now anyone can easily log in and rate businesses. A red thumbtack signifies a business that’s not friendly to gun owners. A green thumbtack represents a place that openly welcomes gun owners. A gray thumbtack is a business where folks have carried a concealed firearm without incident, but where the official policy is not known. There are now over 11,000 places rated, and users are adding more everyday.
Walsh’s website is an Angie’s List for Second Amendment advocates. Each rating can have a note attached; click on the thumbtack to see it. For Dr. Jagadish Potluri’s office in Leesburg, Va., for example, a note says, “Signs on all entryways barring firearms.” For Grioli’s Italian Bistro in Bealeton, Va., a note reads: “I placed the first, that is NEGATIVE, rating. I have since received an apology from the CEO/President of the chain. He has done his homework and seen his manager was incorrect and taken steps to educate the staff that handguns ARE legal in the restaurant.”
“I never meant for this site to be used to persuade businesses to change their policies,” Walsh says. “But when a business finds they’re losing customers, they often clarify or change their policy.” Whereas the Journal News in White Plains, N.Y., posted the names and home addresses — also via a Google map — of some New York residents who have concealed-carry permits, Friend or Foe doesn’t invade personal privacy. It helps gun owners follow laws and regulations and take their business that respect their freedom. “I’m a big believer in property rights,” Walsh says. “I don’t dispute a business’s right to ban firearms on their property. I’ve just decided to take my business elsewhere. Some other gun owners are choosing to do the same.”
As the website grows, Walsh is modifying its security and finding the best ways to make sure ratings are accurate. When a rating seems odd, website users flag it and Walsh or others check on the establishment and adjust the rating if necessary. He prefers establishments to have multiple ratings so users can see an average rather than a single opinion. He also wants to create an app that allows travelers to search for restaurants and hotels that don’t bar them from carrying a gun.
Walsh doesn’t require people to sign in or give any personal information. “Many gun owners are very private people,” Walsh says. “They shouldn’t have to give personal information before they can help others chose where to take their business.”
Tom Gresham, host of Gun Talk (a nationally syndicated radio talk show about firearms, shooting, and gun rights), points out that Friend or Foe is only one example of citizens’ becoming educated consumers. There is so much peaceful, grassroots Second Amendment activism afoot that Gresham compares today’s gun-rights movement to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. “Gun owners are standing up for a basic human right,” says Gresham. “I want to support the companies that also support my constitutional freedoms. Technology is now making it easier for us to do this.”
Gresham’s stance on this issue solidified after he invited someone from Wounded Warrior Project, a charity that helps veterans, to come on his radio show on Veteran’s Day. After sending the invite, Gresham received a statement from Leslie Coleman, the public-relations director for WWP, saying they were declining because Gun Talk is “related to firearms.” This shocked Gresham, because many gun companies and hunting groups have done a lot to financially support WWP.
After Gresham talked about this hypocrisy on his show, many gun owners spoke out on blogs and elsewhere. To subdue the controversy, WWP’s CEO, Steve Nardizzi, agreed to do an interview on Gun Talk. But Nardizzi only inflamed the tension during his appearance, distancing WWP from those who cherish the Second Amendment.
Gresham was torn. WWP does great work, but other organizations also help wounded warriors. He decided it was time to take a stand. He wrote, in an op-ed for the Shooting Wire:
There is a major push to demonize and marginalize gun owners, gun makers, and the shooting sports. It is in this light that I see the WWP policy of prohibiting gun and knife makers from using the WWP logo. What are they telling the world? Take the longer view. Ebay blocked firearms from being listed. Paypal blocks the use of its service for buying guns. Google blocks guns, dealers, and makers from searches in its shopping service. We have reports of banks closing the accounts of gun makers simply on the basis that they won’t do business with the firearms industry. Each of these is a very public way of saying, “We don’t do business with ‘those people.’” Each is a way of saying that reasonable and responsible people should have nothing to do with the firearms business. We are being put into the same box as pornography. . . . No longer will we just shrug when faced with a distorted media report about guns. No longer will we just go about our business when a politician makes outrageous claims about gun owners. No longer will we continue to give money to, or do business with, any outfit that in any way labels us as “undesirables.” To shrug and just go on is to not just accept the demonization, but it actually agrees with it and supports it. No longer.
Now, as the U.S. Senate deliberates another “assault weapons” ban and other measures that target the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms, the more than 100 million Americans who own guns are learning to separate their allies from their enemies. Friend or Foe is just one example.
When I asked Walsh if he has had to give up his favorite restaurants or stores, he said: “I had to give up going to Costco, as they have a corporate policy banning guns. Locally, I also had to stop going to Buffalo Wild Wings. As you educate yourself and try to give your hard-earned dollars only to those who stand with your freedom, you find there are sacrifices. For me, though, it’s worth it. For the handful of places I’ve had to give up, I’ve easily found new places that support gun owners.”
Meanwhile, the comments about local businesses from gun owners around the country keep filling in the map on Walsh’s website; one person in Washington, Penn., gave Washington Ford a red thumbtack and wrote: “Was asked by one of the salesmen to cover up [my handgun] because it upsets people. Well, upset him out of the sale of a new Focus hatchback.”