Division Sign: Should You Do Business With a No-Guns-Allowed Company?

We get it, America. We know not to bring our guns into any major-league sporting events at stadiums, ballparks and arenas. We know not to bring them inside county and federal courthouses, mental health hospitals, jails and prisons, and most government facilities.

For every sign you see in a mall, shop, store or restaurant in your town that says, “Guns Welcome. Please Keep All Weapons Holstered Unless Need Arises. In Such A Case, Judicious Marksmanship Is Appreciated,” there seem to be 100 that say “No Guns Allowed.”

For some odd and inexplicable reason, many anti-gun people are under the always-proved-wrong assumption that no-guns signs will somehow repel armed evildoers, mass murderers, terrorists and other maniacs bent on homicide-suicide. No attacker has ever been stopped by anything printed on paper.

It’s not that I don’t get it. Business owners and their employees watch the news. They see mass murders at malls and churches, the constant war on terrorism overseas, accidental shootings by kids, gang shootouts, police shootings and police being killed in shootings, and they have legitimate fears about being around customers or other people who enter their facilities who might not be trained or mature enough to safely carry guns. Those are valid concerns.

For any business posting a no-guns-allowed sign, who can you even speak to — inside or outside the business — to get some clarification?

But we can also flip those same fears they have of those violent events and say, “All true. But there might be a person in your retail store, restaurant or shop who is legally, safely and carefully carrying a gun, and he or she just might stop one of those tragedies we’ve all seen on TV.”

The issue is complex. For any business posting a no-guns-allowed sign, who can you even speak to — inside or outside the business — to get some clarification? Talking to a nervous or gun-unfriendly assistant manager in the doorway of his store is probably not going to go very well. Chatting in the parking lot or at the cash register will either not be possible or, even worse, create a scene at which the police will soon arrive. Is our only hope to suffer in silence? Well, here’s a sad and parallel issue:

We’ve seen many recent cases of armed cops in full uniform who don’t get served in certain fast-food joints or sit-down restaurants; it’s usually a way for some incredibly immature employee to make his or her “social justice” statement. What chance does a legally armed citizen have trying to discuss the validity of concealed carry with the same kind of food-service technician?

The Daughter Test

One obvious solution is that concealed has to mean concealed. After you start carrying a concealed firearm, you start to notice whether other people nearby are doing likewise. If they’re carrying correctly, you either won’t know or you won’t be able to tell without careful scrutiny. In other words, if you bring a concealed firearm into a no-guns business and you do so the right way, no one working in or visiting that business will ever know. That means no holsters that print, no guns that aren’t fully concealed by the right types of clothing, no visible magazine pouches, nothing.

When my kid — a young woman who is not a fan of guns — is home from college, I’ll ask her to take the “Daughter Test,” in which I ask, “Can you see if I’m wearing a gun or not?” before we go out to eat or to the movies. The trick is — and she knows this — sometimes I’m wearing a gun and sometimes I’m not. (Spotting my gun bag on the front seat of my car doesn’t count.) I change the location on my body, so, if I’m careful (and I’d like to think I am), she never spots my gun when it’s on me.

Personal Experiences

Here’s one example of the no-guns-allowed policy taken to the extreme: How do you do business with your bank when they install “man traps” or double doors with metal detectors in their lobby? After inside the man-trap foyer, you get screened. If the green light goes on, you can go in, but if the red light goes on, you cannot.

My local branch did this and I left without going inside, not wanting to set off the alarm. What’s the protocol, besides just leaving? Should you try to get the manager to come over so you can explain you’re legally carrying? Would that even help? What could you show the manager? Your permit? Driver’s license? A picture on your phone of you shooting well at the range?

Since I’m retired law enforcement, I didn’t want to identify myself and cause a scene, so I left and found a different branch (in a better neighborhood, frankly) without all the extra security. I get why more and more banks are installing these double-door man traps to stymie robbers, especially with so many stickup artists out here in sunny California. But what are we non-crooks to do? Change banks? Complain to the 800-number printed on the door? Gripe about it on Facebook?

It can be hard to even find a direct phone line to your local branch, and using social media only further separates us from the anti-gunners who don’t think we should have guns in the first place (let alone carry them anywhere).

The guy next to you on the treadmill could be an accountant or a registered sex offender.

Last year, I took a great trip to Williams, Arizona, to ride the Grand Canyon Railway into the national park. The train trip was peaceful and relaxing, the views into the park were awesome and it was a fun experience — save for one thing: The train station in Williams has a no-guns-allowed sign. This is ironic on two levels: 1. Arizona is a no-permit-necessary concealed carry state. 2. The station is about 300 feet from a small arena where there is a Wild West “shootout” show between the town marshal and three train robbers. After we watched the marshal “kill” the bad guys, he holstered his weapon and sauntered off, spurs jingling. But no-can-do when it comes to bringing your concealed firearm into the adjacent train station or aboard the train.

In 1993, at the Family Fitness Center health club in El Cajon, California, an angry and disturbed gym member, James Buquet, 19, went inside and murdered four people with a shotgun before killing himself. I belonged to that club back then and was glad to have missed his rampage by a few days. I always bring my gun to my gym in a fanny pack when I work out, and I do so for two reasons: 1. I don’t like leaving any gun in my car. 2. A gym is as much of a public place as any other mass-attack target. There will be dozens or even hundreds of complete strangers inside during busy peak hours. Gym memberships are sold to anyone with a checking account or a credit card, with no screening as to who the person is or what he or she has done. The guy next to you on the treadmill could be an accountant or a registered sex offender. The woman on the machine near you could have an ex-boyfriend who wants to murder her. The man standing in the locker room could be stalking one of the female trainers or front-desk staff.

Know the Laws

If you have the absolute legal right to be armed in your state, can a store or a restaurant set a no-guns-inside policy for that piece of private property? Yes. If it’s a private business, it can set all kinds of policies. Public governmental agencies — public sites like parks, nature preserves and beaches, or certain lands that are zoned for specific usages — can allow or not allow guns by law, code, statute or ordinance. A private business can set almost any policy about access or providing service it wants, as long as it doesn’t discriminate against customers based on race, gender or other protected classifications.

Private employers can control a lot more than you might think. I know a private-security company owner who says to his employees, “Because of the obvious healthcare costs associated with tobacco use, we do not hire anyone who smokes or chews tobacco, nor do we allow any of our employees to use any tobacco products at work or even on their own time. We will test our employees randomly for nicotine and, if they test positive, we will fire them.” Is this legal? Yes. They are a private business and can set this policy as a condition of hiring and continued employment. “If you don’t like it,” goes the owner’s reasoning, “you don’t have to work here.”

The Choice Is Yours

Policy is not always a law; it’s about choice. We can make a choice whether to patronize a business that allows us to bring our properly concealed guns through its doors. Just like the other sign we see a lot in many public-contact businesses, “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone,” well, that choice goes both ways. Don’t want me inside with a gun? Perhaps your competitor across the street will welcome my money.

Some gun people I talk with feel strongly about this cause and believe that a targeted social media campaign, connected to a business boycott of some sort, might be the answer to this issue. This country was founded on protests and organized ones often bring results, but we face a few problems with the boycott approach.

First, gun policy is a polarizing issue in this country, and most anti-gun people really don’t care to hear our complaints. Boycotting a specific business over their no-guns policy seems likely to create a new backlash we don’t need.

But what about sending a polite, non-combative email to the business owner, manager, franchisee or director of customer service at the company’s corporate headquarters? At least it starts a dialogue without being confrontational.

Gun policy is a polarizing issue in this country, and most anti-gun people really don’t care to hear our complaints.

Here’s one possible approach:

“Dear Business Operator: As much as my family and I like your food, products, services and the friendly treatment from your staff, my desire to protect myself with a legally carried concealed firearm is more powerful than the signs outside your door telling me guns aren’t allowed inside.

“I have no desire to make a scene, get involved in a fight that is not my concern or otherwise draw attention to myself as carrying a firearm. I’m not here to act like a cop, be a hero or frighten anyone. My role is to take care of my family and myself by being a professional witness to any conflicts, threats or crimes that might take place inside your business. My first order would be to get me or a loved one into a position of safety and call the police. If that’s not possible and my life is at risk, I will defend myself with skill, accuracy and judgment, based on my years of training and experience safely handling firearms.

“In these days of mass murder in public places, we already know there are not enough police officers to keep us safe or even respond to an armed threat in a timely fashion. I will continue to carry my concealed firearm for a day I hope never comes. Until you change your policy, however, I will not be doing business with your company and I’ll tell my family, friends and colleagues to avoid your firm as well. As I’m sure you know from social media review sites like Yelp, bad word of mouth can hurt a business.

“I’m not making a threat or asking you to make an exception for me; I’m asking you to reconsider your policy for all of my fellow valid concealed carry permit holders. We are large in number, with strong feelings about this issue, and we make choices with our wallets based on how we are treated. I’m ready to discuss this when you are.”

Know Your Situation

Is a no-guns-allowed sign a suggestion, part of a policy, an ordinance, a municipal code violation or a penal code violation? Some signs have real legal weight and others don’t, and it’s ultimately going to be your responsibility to know your specific situation within any given jurisdiction.

If, however, we all agree that it’s better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it, our choices for dealing with businesses with no-guns signs are as follows:

  • Follow the law.
  • Politely ask the business operators for their support.
  • Start a social media discussion with like-minded friends, Facebook followers and colleagues.
  • Make your buying decisions based on who supports your concealed carry lifestyle.
  • Enter the business with your firearm well-concealed and don’t sweat the signage.

Never forget though: Just as they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, so do you.

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