Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen went on a bit of a Facebook rant earlier this week after seeing what he and many others would deem as unacceptable behavior at local big box stores. The 446-word post — about the length of one of our editorials — compared the guidelines of those national chains against the small business owners in our community.
“While these behemoth retailers continue to reap profits with little to no regard for their employees’ and customers’ safety — and ensuring the continued spread of COVID-19 — our local small businesses are the ones who suffer,” Bonnen wrote, “our small businesses who are barely staying afloat and now are trying to demonstrate to their customers that they are following every measure and guideline to keep them safe, desperately working to give them the comfort they need to walk in their doors.”
At our small businesses, he pointed out, employees are wearing masks and gloves and taking extra precautions to avoid contact that could pass the virus from person to person. Those safeguards are not seen at three major retailers, including two home improvement chains often cited by local residents as being routinely full of customers as though we’re not experiencing a pandemic.
It’s a valid observation, one we have made in editorials and columns routinely since the stay-at-home orders were issued back in March. It appears many locals were using the quarantine as a chance to knock items off their honey-do lists, and that’s not possible without lumber, nails and other home improvement supplies.
But another valid observation is while those maskless, gloveless customers and workers might not have been adhering to the guidance offered by government leaders, they weren’t violating any laws. They were conducting what they considered essential transactions in what the state listed as an essential business.
And if there is anything we know about Texans, they take suggestions as just that and aren’t going to do anything they don’t want to do. That includes if they disagree with something that is more than a suggestion but an outright legal government order.
If people wearing masks and gloves in public is a requirement for stopping the spread of disease, people in leadership should tell them they need to do, not just say it’s a good idea. If it’s a bad idea for hundreds of people to pack into home improvement stores to load up on weed killer and lumber, then those stores should be closed.
If we think grown-ups are responsible enough to decide on their own whether face coverings will protect them and their neighbors from a potentially deadly disease, and as such don’t require them, then it’s not exactly fair to criticize those who don’t. That applies to a local boutique or 200,000-square-foot supercenter.
It’s also unfair when most major retailers are doing their part by installing plastic screens at checkout stations, providing masks, gloves and hand sanitizers for employees, and lining their floors with 6-foot markers to maintain social distancing.
Among every American’s First Amendment rights are the freedom to complain about everything, and as tens of thousands of their fellow citizens have died, there has been no shortage of those airing their grievances about everything related to the pandemic. Bonnen’s post is in line with what many of them have said.
We either believe businesses should be allowed to operate in the manner they think is best for their workers and customers or we should have mandates that tell them what they should do. We either believe Americans have the right to go about their lives as they see fit or we set requirements for how they conduct themselves for the greater good.
Calling out people and businesses for operating within the rules set by state leadership is holding the wrong party responsible.