Weapons laws cre­ate dilemma for busi­nesses

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BUSINESS - CHRIS TOM­LIN­SON

I vis­ited a re­pair shop and found the owner sit­ting in the back with a .44 cal­iber re­volver ly­ing un­hol­stered on his desk next to a stack of in­voices.

This was a few years ago. The old lanky Texan in a gimme cap no­ticed me giv­ing his Dirty Harry-style pis­tol a hard look. As a for­mer soldier and war correspondent, I’m at­tuned to the pres­ence of weapons and was as­sess­ing the risk. He vol­un­teered that a young woman had come in a few days ear­lier and freaked out, threat­en­ing to call the po­lice. He told her to go ahead.

“I’m within my rights,” he said pride­fully, as the weapon sat within arm’s reach of both of us.

He was right about that, but is that any way to run a busi­ness?

Texas law­mak­ers have steadily ex­panded the right to carry weapons in pub­lic places, and a law ef­fec­tive Sept. 1 will al­low adults to openly carry large knives and swords. Soon, Tex­ans will be sport­ing 12-inch Bowie knives strapped to their hips and dis­play­ing dag­gers on their desks.

These laws, though, cre­ate a dilemma for busi­ness­peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly re­tail­ers. Do they al­low cus­tomers to carry weapons? Do they al­low all em­ploy­ees to carry guns and swords in the work­place, or do they choose a se­lect few for se­cu­rity’s sake? Is con­cealed carry OK, but not open carry? Or do they ban weapons al­to­gether?

To un­der­stand how to com­ply with the law, ac­com­mo­date cus­tomers and min­i­mize li­a­bil­ity, I spoke with David Barron, a la­bor and em­ploy­ment at­tor­ney at Cozen O’Con­nor in Hous­ton. He pos­sesses a con­cealed hand­gun li­cense and takes a spe­cial in­ter­est in the is­sue.

Texas law pri­or­i­tizes prop­erty and em­ployer rights over the in­di­vid­ual’s right to bear arms, he ex­plained. Prop­erty own­ers may pro­hibit the con­cealed or open carry of weapons if they post the ap­pro­pri­ate sign at ev­ery en­trance.

“If you work in an of­fice build­ing, where you are leas­ing

space, the of­fice build­ing gets to con­trol,” Barron said. The ex­cep­tion is the park­ing lot, where prop­erty own­ers can­not deny a gun owner the right to keep a weapon con­cealed in a per­sonal ve­hi­cle.

If the prop­erty owner doesn’t bar weapons, then the em­ployer can pro­hibit em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers from bring­ing weapons into the busi­ness.

“The knee-jerk re­ac­tion is no guns in the work­place,” Barron said.

But that is chang­ing as some busi­nesses worry about se­cu­rity.

“Many com­pa­nies don’t have full-time armed se­cu­rity on-site. Is it a rea­son­able al­ter­na­tive to have a se­lect in­di­vid­ual or two have a con­cealed-carry weapon? I’ve had sev­eral clients choose to do that,” he said.

Gun rights ad­vo­cates have also launched boy­cotts against busi­nesses that ban guns, in­clud­ing Tar­get, Whole Foods, Costco, Out­back Steak­house and Chuck E. Cheese. Smaller busi­nesses in con­ser­va­tive or ru­ral parts of the state risk los­ing cus­tomers if they ban guns.

“The gun lobby is very strong, and there are a num­ber of web­sites and ad­vo­cacy groups that are ac­tively post­ing and mon­i­tor­ing which re­tail stores posted signs,” Barron said. “So a num­ber of re­tail­ers that I know de­cided, for PR rea­sons, not to post signs.”

Most peo­ple, though, don’t want to take their kids for pizza only to see cus­tomers at the next ta­ble with six-shoot­ers or mil­i­tary-style pis­tols on their belts. More im­por­tantly, they don’t want their chil­dren to see guns ev­ery­where they go. But av­er­age peo­ple don’t or­ga­nize boy­cotts or let­ter-writ­ing cam­paigns. They just walk away and don’t come back.

Smart busi­ness­peo­ple will con­sider the sen­ti­ment of the ma­jor­ity of their cus­tomers and not bend to the vo­cif­er­ous mi­nor­ity.

When I saw the shop­keeper’s re­volver, it did not frighten or in­tim­i­date me. I grew up with hand guns, and I served seven years as a soldier and earned marks­man­shipmedals for nu­mer­ous weapons. I’ ve re­ported from nine wars and spent years sur­rounded by peo­ple car­ry­ing weapons. I’ ve been shot at hun­dreds of times, and I’ ve seen dozens of peo­ple killed in front of me.

See­ing guns ev­ery­where does not make me feel safer, nor does car­ry­ing one. Since most peo­ple do not have con­cealed hand­gun li­censes, I as­sume most peo­ple feel the same way.

When I see a per­son with a weapon, I try to as­sess whether that per­son is dan­ger­ous. I don’t want to de­bate the Sec­ond Amend­ment or dis­cuss our na­tion’s her­itage. I’m not in­ter­ested in tak­ing the weapon away from that per­son.

I just feel sad — sad be­cause these peo­ple feel some in­ner need to make a pub­lic dis­play of force. I’m sad­dened by the lack of ci­vil­ity and sad­dened by the pride taken in what most peo­ple con­sider an in­stru­ment of death.

Weapons are tools that have their pur­pose and place. But af­ter see­ing them used for their in­tended pur­pose, I’d pre­fer to never see an­other one.

Catch­ing flack from gun ad­vo­cates is not any fun, and I am sure they will at­tack this col­umn. But smart busi­nesses know that most cus­tomers would rather not see guns where they shop or do busi­ness, whether it’s a pearl-han­dled pis­tol or a broad sword.

The shop­keeper with the .44 didn’t keep much cash on hand, and the goods he sold and re­paired were not easy to steal. I told him I’d spent a lot of time around guns, and he was wel­come to his. But I will never do busi­ness with him again.

Mark Mul­li­gan / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

If they are pro­hibit­ing open carry of weapons, Texas busi­nesses must post signs at en­try­ways stat­ing that.

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