Weapons laws create dilemma for businesses
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.
If they are prohibiting open carry of weapons, Texas businesses must post signs at entryways stating that.