-- Every morning, Lauren Boebert starts the day by getting ready for work. She puts on her make-up, fixes her near-perfect hair, and puts on a sparkly belt.
But the 27-year-old mother of four isn’t fully dressed until she straps on her loaded 9 mm semiautomatic handgun.
Boebert and her husband run a restaurant called the Shooters Grill. When they opened it a year ago in their hometown of Rifle, Colorado, going with a “gun theme” seemed natural. But Boebert took it one step further and began carrying a loaded weapon on her hip in public.
“I wanted to start carrying just for my protection. This is my establishment, so I didn’t see anything wrong with that,” she said. “[So] I began to open carry.”
It’s legal in Colorado to open carry handguns and Boebert isn’t the only one packing heat inside her restaurant. Most of the restaurant’s wait staff also open carry. The restaurant is so popular, Boebert said they sometimes sell out of food. She denies the armed staff is a gimmick for Shooters Grill, saying it’s about expressing their right to defend themselves.
"My firearms have nothing to do with the amazing hamburgers we cook," Boebert said. "Actually, the food that we cook is what started all this."
What’s happening at Shooters Grill is an offshoot of a controversial movement that started in Texas. A group of gun-carrying activists that calls itself “Open Carry Texas” brazenly flex their legal right to bear arms by carrying around assault rifles in public. The group’s mission is to raise awareness of existing gun rights and to expand those rights. Texas law says it is legal to openly carry so-called “long guns” like rifles, but the open carry of handguns is prohibited. Open Carry Texas’ enthusiasm for packing heat in public has led national chains including Chipotle, Chili’s and Jack in the Box to post signs asking customers to leave firearms at home.
But at Shooter’s Grill, it’s not the patrons, but most of the waitresses who are armed.
Patrons come from hundreds of miles around, but not just for the burgers, which have names like “Guac 9” and “Swiss and Wesson,” but to see the waitresses packing heat. Over the past few weeks, the Boeberts’ restaurant has gotten so much attention, a man who said he was a U.S. Marine called with an offer to buy a gun for any waitress that didn’t own one.
“He called in from California and asked our owner if there was a girl that he could buy a gun for, and so I got it three days ago,” said Carsyn Copeland, one of Shooter Grill’s waitresses. “It’s a Kimber 45.”
Of course, not everyone in town is thrilled. Boebert said she and her staff have gotten angry posts on Facebook and other social media, random phone calls to the restaurant and even actual letters in the mail.
"'Hope God punishes you for what you are doing. Hope that you and all of your patrons will kill yourself,'" said Boebert, reading from one of the letters. “That is pretty harsh.”
The state of Colorado has seen its share of gun violence, including the massacres at Columbine High School and the Aurora movie theater, and there are others who feel Shooters Grill glorifies gun culture.
One of those people is Dave Hoover of Lakeview, Colorado, whose nephew A.J. Boik was killed in the Aurora theater shooting.
“This is America, they’re allowed to [open carry], but you can’t glamorize the gun,” Hoover said. “The gun will never be a glamorous thing. It’s just an object. What we need to worry about is keeping the guns out of those who shouldn’t have firearms.”
Hoover has been in law enforcement for three decades. In a shooting situation, he said, more guns on scene create more confusion for police trying to secure the shooter. “I don’t know which one is the bad guy, which one is the good guy,” Hoover said.
“I know I’m going to engage the one who’s closest to me," he said, adding, "I hope to God" that person is the bad guy.
But Boebert believes there is nothing violent about law-abiding citizens carrying a gun.
"I think it should be normal everywhere. I think it should be a common sight. I think we would have a lot less violence if it was," she said.
Even the police chief in Rifle says things are different in his town. “I understand why some people from the outside may see this as a little bit odd,” said Chief John Dyer, referring to Shooters Grill. “And the burgers are great.”
Boebert insists that her employees and her customers are safe, saying, "I'm more worried about my cooks getting burnt in the kitchen than a firearm going off in the restaurant."
And when people do call to tell her they have concerns, she said she remains polite.
“People call in all the time and tell me that this is not normal where they are, and they would never patronize a restaurant like this,” Boebert said. “I say, ‘thank you for your opinion. God bless you.’”