“Welcome to the convention! Please check your firearms.” That may not be the greeting many meeting attendees expect to hear. But recent changes in gun laws across the U.S. mean we may be hearing it more and more.
Several states recently enacted laws allowing firearms to be brought into public accommodations such as convention centers, restaurants, bars and houses of worship. These states joined others in confirming that guns may be carried by licensed persons nearly everywhere they choose to go. Some jurisdictions allow “open carry,” meaning the pistol or rifle can be readily seen by others. In other places concealed weapons may be permitted.
Meeting professionals should recognize that guns at meetings are not a problem for everyone. Many people in the U.S. prefer to carry licensed firearms with them in their daily routines. Some do it for safety; others are making a statement about their constitutional rights. They are entitled to carry their guns by law.
For these people, laws that affirm their right to bring weapons to public places may encourage their attendance at events. And some events that seek to attract attendees who endorse “gun rights” will now have more freedom to cater to that market segment when they meet in states that have adopted pro-gun laws.
The increasing presence of firearms is also an area of concern for many meeting planners. They may view guns as inherently threatening to some. The image of meeting attendees crossing a trade show floor with rifles strapped to their backs is a scene reminiscent of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Planners may also worry that an enraged or drunk attendee with a gun could cause tremendous harm to others—certainly more than someone with a knife or no weapon at all.
There is not always a one-size-fits-all response to bringing guns to events. Some groups may generally permit firearms as a matter of policy. But if their event will include a controversial celebrity or a political figure in attendance, they may have to rethink their approach.
The 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland is a good example. Ohio law allows firearms to be brought into the convention venue, and the Republican Party supports gun rights. On the other hand, with Donald Trump and political leaders in attendance, there was a need for special security measures to ensure safety. Convention leaders and government officials decided to allow firearms outside the venue, but to prohibit them inside the arena. This compromise helped ensure a safe experience for all.
For planners and meeting hosts, some pre-event thought and proper planning can create an event at which all attendees can be comfortable. This is true even in “pro-carry” states. Permissive gun legislation may create some challenges for those seeking to limit the presence of firearms, but it is certainly still possible to conduct meetings much the same as before recent pro-gun laws were enacted.
Different laws in every state make it impossible to create hard and fast rules to apply to every meeting across the U.S. But here are some things to consider when planning a meeting or event in any location.
- Review the state’s laws on carrying weapons with counsel: This is good advice even if you don’t believe that attendees are allowed to carry guns in the jurisdiction where the meeting will be held, or if you wish to permit guns and are meeting in a pro-gun state. There may be limits on your ability to endorse or prohibit firearms, and you need to be aware of any conditions.
- Understand that meeting sponsors wishing to ban firearms from their meetings may still be able to do so, even in states that have enacted pro-gun legislation. Particularly if the meeting location is a privately owned hotel or conference facility, an event sponsor may have the right to keep guns out, and even deny entrance to attendees refusing to comply.
- Create a written policy on firearms for your organization, and then enforce it. A clear policy statement publicized to your meeting attendees in advance with registration materials will prevent confusion about what is and isn’t permitted. This policy should also be posted at the meeting venue. If firearms will be prohibited, this should be made clear to attendees in advance.
- If your organization chooses to ban firearms, develop a security strategy to keep firearms out. This may include requesting that attendees pass through metal detectors to ensure that no weapons make it into the event. Some states also permit venues to arrange a “gun check” to allow attendees to check their weapons while they attend the event, and then reclaim them afterwards.
- When serving alcoholic beverages at an event, give particular consideration to whether a meeting otherwise permitting firearms should ban weapons at that particular function. Guns and drinking have been a concern even for states enacting broad pro-gun laws. The heightened risk of impaired judgment resulting in violence when alcohol is involved greatly increases the threat of potential liability for the meeting sponsor, the venue and the person carrying a weapon.
- Check with your insurance carrier about the impact on your rates should you allow firearms, as well as your overall ability to purchase adequate coverage. Rates may be higher if firearms are allowed, due to the increased risk of injury. This is particularly true for events in bars and functions where alcoholic beverages will be available. As the risk of impaired judgment increases, so do insurance costs.
- Laws outside of the U.S. are usually far more restrictive on carrying firearms. When planning an international meeting consider whether local laws allow individuals to own and keep firearms at all, and if so whether they can bring guns to public gatherings. Also, there are often restrictions on transporting weapons across borders. It usually makes sense to urge attendees to leave their firearms at home.
This article was published concurrently in the November 2016 editions of Plan Your Meetings and The Meeting Professional.