In 2010, there were 405 homicides in the workplace due to shootings, explained Mary Goodrich Nix, partner at the Dallas office of Holland & Knight, during the “Navigating the New Open Carry Laws in Texas” webinar, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“What is interesting and maybe not surprising is that 42 percent of those shootings were in the retail and leisure and hospitality industries,” Nix said.
Broken down, that’s 109 on-the-job shooting fatalities in retail (27 percent) and 60 in leisure and hospitality (15 percent). Add educational and health services (4 percent), professional and business services (4 percent) and transportation and warehousing (8 percent), all of which are, to varying degrees, ancillary parts of the overarching meeting and event industry, and you’ve got a grouping of businesses that account for 58 percent of all fatal workplace shootings in the U.S. These statistics only account for the number of worker deaths due to firearms—gun-related customer and bystander fatalities are not included.
Arguably, these figures do not indicate an epidemic of gun violence, but provide additional insight into the environments in which meeting and event professionals work and how the family of industries with which they do business compares to others.
“Event sponsors and planners are potentially responsible for any injury, damages or death that occurs at an event,” says Joshua Grimes, Esq., of Philadelphia-based Grimes Law Offices. “They have a general duty to take all steps reasonably necessary for the proper conduct of the event. This may include a duty to anticipate that some attendees may bring firearms to an event, and to ensure that the event will take place safely.
“This duty may be mitigated by banning firearms at the event, and/or taking reasonable measures to ensure that firearms aren’t brought to the event site, particularly those where alcohol will be served. The specific actions that each organization should take depends on the unique aspects of each event.”
Tyra Hilliard, CMP, PhD, JD, a St. Simons Island, Ga.-based professor and speaker, says due diligence by the planner is key in mitigating potential incidents and liability.
“Know the law, ask the questions, find out (for example) even if the facility is legally required to allow firearms—can the group forbid them in their meeting space?” Hilliard says. “Hire extra security if the need calls for it.”
Legally, the question of a planner’s liability really comes down to identifying the organizer’s “duty of care” regarding firearms at the event, Hilliard says.
“If firearms are legal and the organizer has no reason to suspect an outbreak of violence (known threats, high-profile, disliked public figure, etc.), then the organizer’s duty is more not to interfere with the law,” she says. “The risk of liability is minor.”
All of these recommendations form a great basis from which to safeguard attendees and your organization, but, Bagnall points out: “Of course, it’s always prudent to check to determine whether or not there are any exclusions in your policy relating to gun incidents.”
Another legal consideration that bears mentioning is the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, even though the flexibility planners have with this is limited.
“There are potential Second Amendment ramifications when guns are prohibited,” Grimes says. “For example, a state law enacted pursuant to the Second Amendment may prohibit a meeting group from banning firearms from events in that state, or certain types of firearms, such as concealed weapons.”
Sure, the right to assemble peaceably is covered in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (how’s that for recognizing the value of meetings and events by America’s founding fathers?), but when facing the sacrosanct text of the U.S. Constitution and the prevailing understanding of the Second Amendment, sometimes you’ll simply have to look elsewhere for a destination and venue that aligns with the mission, goals and policies of your organization.
“This is why it’s essential for a planner to review and understand the laws of the state where a meeting may be held relating to firearms,” Grimes says. “If the planner finds that the particular state’s laws would not allow the meeting to go forward in a manner the planner considers to ensure the safety of all attendees, the planner should choose a different location where the laws may better suit the meeting.”