The owner of a Beaumont, Tex. gun shop on Tuesday explained why his employee was wearing a banana suit and an AK-47 to promote the store’s grand opening this weekend.
“To help people know where the new spot is, we stuck a costume mask on him, pointing a sign toward the store. He happened to be open-carrying. It’s not uncommon in Beaumont for people to be doing that,” Derek Poe told TPM, explaining that multiple businesses in the area promote their stores with sign holders.
Poe, who owns Golden Triangle Tactical, added that the employee wore the banana suit to make himself look less threatening while carrying an AK-47.
“And the banana suit was so he would look less alarming,” he said.
The employee was cited by police Saturday for soliciting near a roadway without a permit.
“He was legally open-carrying, so they couldn’t pin that on him,” Poe said. “What the police have been doing is selective enforcement. It’s a form of harassment, intimidation tactics used by Beaumont PD. They didn’t even know what he did wrong. They were down there, one of the police officer’s going through her phone and her code book trying to find something to pin on him because you can open carry in Texas.”
Poe also defended his employee’s choice to open carry, invoking a civil rights hero in the process.
“There’s necessarily no reason to open carry,” he said. “Rosa Parks didn’t really need to sit where she did.”
Poe was charged with disorderly conduct in December for carrying his gun across his back on his way to work at the store’s previous location in a local mall. The store sells firearms and offers safety and National Rifle Association training courses.
“Someone called in freaking out that I had a gun. Well, I had it in a non-threatening, non-alarming manner, slung on my back, barrel down, and I had groceries in my hand,” he said about the incident.
Around the week after he was charged, the mall posted signs declaring the space a gun free zone, according to Poe. He decided to find a new location for his shop because he wanted to respect the mall’s right to ban guns as property owners.
Nevertheless Poe took issue with the safety of gun-free zones.
“I’m not going to subject my store, my employees, my customers or myself to an unsafe working environment, which is what a gun-free zone is,” he said.
Poe, an advocate for gun rights and part of the “Liberty Project,” compared owning and carrying a gun to owning pit bulls and walking them in public.
“If I have a problem with pit bulls, I see somebody walking down the road with pit bulls, I don’t call the cops because I’m afraid. And they don’t get their dogs taken away because they’re walking dogs in an alarming manner,” he said. “It should be the same. If somebody pisses himself — wets their pants — every time they see a firearm that’s their problem, maybe they should seek counseling.”
As described on the store’s website, which features the tagline “Safe solutions in an unsafe world,” the Liberty Project is dedicated to “restoring good American values, morals and a literal interpretation of the United States Constitution as the founding fathers intended with a strong emphasis on the bill of rights, states rights, and a limited federal government.”
Not all residents of Texas are comfortable with that vision or the concept of open carry laws, however.
“I understand where some are coming from — afraid of it,” Poe added. “Here they’re not used to it. That’s what the whole reason for the Liberty movement, the open carry law is for, it gets people used to it and desensitizes them to seeing firearms.”