Few topics have created more discussion in recent months than gun violence. A couple decades ago, few school administrators, church leaders, and business managers gave thought to the possibility of a violent incident occurring in their facilities. While it’s not entirely clear whether the number of incidents has increased, the media (and social media) attention given to those incidents has stoked a great deal of fear.
Many gun owners have reacted to this perception of a growing threat by choosing to keep their weapons with them when they’re away from home. They believe carrying a concealed handgun gives them an opportunity to protect themselves and those around them; that a “good guy” with a gun is the best protection against a “bad guy” with a gun. That’s a politically charged discussion we won’t explore here.
What is important to address is how you and the facilities you oversee deal with the growing number of people who carry concealed weapons. The Crime Prevention Research Center recently estimated that more than 17 million concealed handgun permits have been issued in the U.S., which represents a 273 percent increase since 2007. That means just over 7 percent of American adults now have concealed carry permits -- and that doesn’t include gun owners in the 14 states that don’t require such permits. Roughly a third of Americans have at least one firearm in their home.
If the adults who use your facilities are representative of those statistics, that means roughly one in thirteen visitors walks in with a concealed weapon. That number doesn’t include those who carry for other reasons, such as off-duty law enforcement officers. So if you have 500 adults at a basketball game, a Sunday morning service, or the second shift, you may have about 38 people who are armed without your knowledge.
Knowing there are attendees who have taken it upon themselves to be ready to protect others if the unthinkable happens may give you some comfort. Or it may cause you heartburn, wondering if a poorly trained gun owner could escalate a dangerous situation and create a legal liability.
Some states allow property owners to designate “gun-free” zones and deny admittance to those carrying weapons. Other states take different approaches. For example, in our home state of Indiana, property owners can ask those carrying a concealed weapon to leave. Those who fail to do so may be charged with criminal trespass.
Whether you wish to encourage concealed carry in your facility, discourage gun owners from packing, or take some neutral stance, the best approach is to start by developing a thoughtful policy. Your first step should be conversations with your liability insurer and your attorney so that you fully understand your responsibilities, potential liabilities, and options under your state’s laws.
Next, conduct a discussion with your leadership team to determine everyone’s comfort level with concealed carry. Think through potential situations and responses. If you know gun owners in your group, involve them in the conversation. Sit down with your local police chief or county sheriff to get their thoughts and recommendations about the issue, because they’ll end up responding to any incident.
Proceed carefully, because this is a delicate, divisive, emotionally charged issue. Some gun owners will respond angrily if they perceive that you’re trying to limit their legal rights, while some non-owners will be terrified at the thought that someone in the next pew or cubicle is armed with a deadly weapon. Keep the discussion focused on the issues and realities, trying to keep emotions on both sides calm.
Once you’ve developed and adopted your policy, and had it reviewed by the experts (if your policy governs employees, that should include an attorney who specializes in employment law), share it with everyone who is affected. Explain the reason you created a policy and the process you used to ensure that all viewpoints were heard and considered. You’ll probably never need to use your policy, but should an incident occur, you’ll be glad you had it in place.