Five Man Electrical Band said it best in their song, “Signs”
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read the sign?
Modern concealed carry laws have contained a provision which allows paranoid persons to ban concealed carry on their premises. The procedure is to post signs in the tradition of “No Irish Need Apply”, “Whites Only” or “TWAK”.1 Some statutes specify a terminology, size, placement or even color.2 The specifics of these signs have been subject of some dispute.
I have often been in a line where someone indicates my “Guns Save Lives” button and whispers “I like your button.” Why they think they have to whisper is a matter of some concern.
Minnesota’s original concealed carry law specified the language to be used on signs. This prompted a lawsuit by certain religious groups which claimed the required language violated their religious beliefs. These “religious beliefs”, it was claimed, demanded signs reading “Peacemakers Only”. While the Cowboy Action Shooters could have lived with this language, that was not the point. One gathers that if the statute had demanded signs reading “Peacemakers Only” the plaintiffs would have found that objectionable as well. The court struck down the entire law, which was promptly re-enacted with better sign requirements.
Some states have avoided litigation over signs by assigning their design to state agencies. This avoids risking the statute itself to challenge.
The Missouri statute only requires that the sign be posted in a prominent location, be eleven by fourteen inches with letters an inch high. It does not specify what the letters must say, only that they gather together in some organized fashion to prohibit weapons. Some locations had opted to use the silhouette of a handgun with a slash mark through it. This raises the question of whether this silhouette constitutes letters an inch high. There is no answer. The question may come up as violation of posted areas is an infraction which involves fines and the potential loss of the License To Carry.3 It might also be charged as trespass which triggers misdemeanor penalties.4
The casual observer will find numerous signs which do not comply with state statutes. The question then becomes how to respond to these non-conforming signs. When Missouri passed its law, the activists who had spent thirteen years fighting for concealed carry reform considered this question. The unanimous decision was to urge License to Carry (LTC) holders to obey non-conforming signs. The theory was that in every state where such a law was passed there was a period of “Chicken Little” hysteria that the sky was falling and the signs went up. In time, business owners found that the sky was not falling, and the signs came down.
The question then became how to help them realize that the sky was not falling. Confrontation was clearly not the best route. When faced with confrontation people tend to stop listening. Shortly after Missouri’s law passed, a gentleman in Columbia, Missouri had to do business at a location with a “no weapons” sign. Being a proud new LTC holder he told them exactly what he thought of their sign; and he was not a silver-tongued devil. The clerks “felt afraid”. The police were called and the gentleman was arrested. By the time the police caught up with him he was carrying a weapon, a knife. The county judge ruled that Missouri’s law did not cover concealed knives.5 The sign remained.
There have been some claims that insurance companies are insisting on these signs. There are other indications that the landlords of malls require them of tenants. This is a shortsighted approach. Since the signs are obviously not effective against criminals and psychopaths, they must be aimed at lawful LTC holders. This assumes 1) that the LTC holder is likely to suddenly turn homicidal, or 2) the LTC holder is likely to be careless and accidentally shoot another patron. The first excuse is absurd. Even if possible it is not likely that a sign would deter the suddenly homicidal.
The second excuse is unlikely. While accidents happen, they are no more likely to happen after an LTC law is passed than before.6 These excuses are the product of prejudice rather than research. Regardless, these superstitions are very real to the persons holding them. They must be dealt with as if they were real. Telling the manager that one needs a gun for the occasional gunfight does not engage the manager on a subject he wants to think is possible, or wants to think about at all. What has proved successful is the “No Guns, No Money” card. The size of a driver’s license, the card tells the manager that gun owners are perplexed that he does not want to do business with people who have undergone background checks and safety training, but we will respect their wishes and do business with their competition.7 A loss of business tends to get the owner’s attention.
The greater question is what business owners get for their signs. I am reminded of TV coverage on what the police called an “active shooter” (they mean killer) at a Kansas City, Kansas business. As the somber reporter did his stand up in front of the building, the camera panned to a sign reading “No Guns Allowed”. Clearly, suicidal, homicidal, criminal psychopaths either do not read signs or disregard what they read.8 For all the effort in putting up these signs, the business owner gets financial responsibility for his customer’s safety.
The traditional rule has been that business owners are not responsible for the safety of customers. Under this rule, criminal activity is an intervening and unexpected cause of any injury on the premises. Business owners are allowed to carry on in the blissful superstition that everyone will obey the law. As in any legal rule, there are exceptions, and in recent years, the exceptions have grown larger. The business owner can become responsible for his customer’s safety if the criminal activity is foreseeable: “An intervening criminal act will not necessarily shield the landowner from liability where a jury question arises whether the landowner breached his duty to maintain safe premises.”9
If the business owner denies a customer the means of self-defense, the owner must provide protection from the time the customer leaves his gun in his car, to the time that he returns to it. The business owner may avoid liability if the customer retains his weapon. The owner’s (the defendant’s) “…duty may also depend upon the defendant’s ability, or lack thereof, to provide effective protection. The capacity of the victim of such a criminal attack to protect himself may also affect the question of the defendant’s liability, since his duty is… proportionately less if the victim was armed or otherwise prepared to repulse an attack.”10
Denying customers the means of self-defense is akin to car lots which require customers to surrender their keys to the attendant. When the car is stolen or property stolen from the car, such lots are almost always found liable for the loss; regardless of what waivers, limitations, excuses or incantations are printed on the back of the ticket.11 Car lots which allow customers to park and take the car’s security with them are almost always not found liable.12 Giving dominion over one’s property to another party is called a bailment.13 Rights are not usually thought of as bailed.14 However, the requirement of leaving the right of self-defense at the store entrance is a comparatively new concept. Under premises liability rules or bailment concepts the business owner who forces LTC holders to disarm becomes responsible for their safety.
So I got me a pen and paper
And I made up my own little sign
“Signs” —Five Man Electrical Band
I have often been in a line where someone indicates my “Guns Save Lives” button and whispers “I like your button.” Why they think they have to whisper is a matter of some concern. If we will fly our colors people will become accustomed to seeing us, and fear us less. This has the disadvantage of allowing hoplophobes to identify us and project their paranoid fantasies onto us.15 It is possible that criminals will shoot first. However, the signs will come down.
[ Kevin L. Jamison is an attorney in the Kansas City, Missouri area concentrating in the area of weapons and self-defense. ]
Please send questions to
|Kevin L. Jamison
2614 NE 56th Ter
Gladstone, Missouri, 64119-2311
Individual answers are not usually possible, but may be addressed in future columns.
This information is for legal information purposes and does not constitute legal advice. For specific questions, you should consult a qualified attorney.
- “Trade With A Klansman”. Really, if the Klan did not kill people their terminology would have them laughed out of existence.
- See the USCCA Concealed Carry Reciprocity & Gun Law Map.
- An infraction is specifically not a crime in Missouri; it is a civil penalty begun by a citation from a police officer and ending in court.
- Some prosecutors are salivating to put us in jail on any grounds.
- This ruling is a gross misinterpretation of Missouri’s law which clearly exempts LTC holders from our concealed weapons law. An appeal was filed but a plea was negotiated before the gentleman rolled the dice on our rights.
- Lott More Guns, Less Crime 2d ed. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2000 at 110-112.
- Download the template at www.learntocarry.com.
- There really should be a term for persons who want to die while taking a number of innocent parties with them, perhaps “omnicidal”.
- 62 Am Jur 2d Premises Liability § 46.
- 62 Am Jur supra.
- Knight v. H& HChevrolet, 337 N.W.2d 742 (Neb 1983) at 745.
- Equity Mutual Insurance Co v. Affiliated Parking Inc, 448 S.W.2d 909 (St. Louis Ct App. 1969) at 914. Some effect must be credited to good lawyering.
- Not like a bail bond which will be discussed some other time.
- Unless we get back to bail bonds.
- Hoplophobes are people with an unnatural fear of weapons and weapon owners.