Gun-Free Zone Liability?

gun-free-zone-signCurrently, while these gun-free zone businesses possess the right to prevent legally licensed to carry permit holders from carrying a firearm while on their premise, there is no designation of responsibility to provide for the safety of their patrons during an active shooter situation

– Senator Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, TX

The above beckons the question; “Should businesses that ban guns be liable if unarmed patrons are hurt?” The senator mentioned in the preceding quote believes that they should and is introducing a bill that could affect how private businesses conduct, well, their business.

Hall, R-Edgewood, wants to propose a law that will make gun-free businesses liable for “any harm that befalls patrons as a result of being deprived of his or her weapon.” The law, Hall says, would “encourage Texas businesses to do the right thing and allow their patrons to carry the firearms they have lawfully trained with for self-protection.”

Just what kind of liability are we talking about; Strict Liability or Limited Liability.

There have been many occasions where customers have been injured on “company” property; a woman spills hot coffee in her lap, a man slips and is injured in an aisle of a grocery store that had not cleaned up the aisle of a spilled product, and more recently, a boy is killed when riding a water slide.” One of the primary concerns in a civil case, which all of these incidents would fall under, is what the business did to ensure the safety of its customers. A company may decide to keep things out of court and pay some amount of agreed-upon hush-money amount to prevent the damaged from going to court – all while disavowing responsibility in every form and manner.

Recently, a man entered a Waffle-House with an AK. He was bent on robbing the establishment, and perhaps, the patrons. The latter we don’t know because an armed and licensed patron shot the would-be robber who subsequently died from his wounds. The Waffle-House is a “Gun Free” business. Had the patron, who chose not to disarm had disarmed, the outcome may have turned out different; we really don’t know how far the would-be robber would have carried things. As I read the article about the Waffle House incident, I knew that I would have been the patron who refused to disarm himself for the sake of enjoying a scattered, smothered, and covered breakfast. I do go to Waffle House and I do so armed, although I do so concealed – no see, no ask, and no tell. In fact, had that would be armed robber come to my Waffle House when myself and my shooting buddies were there, he would have faced more than one armed patron.

Aside from those government agencies where I absolutely cannot be armed when conducting business, you will find me armed most everywhere. My personal safety is just that – personal.

I was involved in a discussion at my LGS a few weeks back. I was there when a customer came in and was openly carrying a firearm with a magazine inserted. There is a sign on the front door that states “Only Law Enforcement is allowed Loaded Weapons in this Establishment!” Of course, all the workers are armed with loaded weapons. One of the workers asked the patron if the gun was loaded and if he would, step outside, un-load the gun, and remove the magazine before coming back into the store, which the patron did. A conversation ensued afterward between me and the staff about it after the patron left. Above one of the sale’s counter is a high shelf that contains a wide array of cartridges – live cartridges from pistols, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns. These were cartridges that the store did not return to the customer after they flew out of their firearms that were brought into the store. If a firearm is seen on a customer, its condition is called into question by the staff. As one employee commented, “If a person has a gun concealed, there is not much we can do about it, but we can if we see it.” That statement, actually, is the thought of most businesses when it comes to firearm although they, like the LGS, hope to prevent an armed patron from entering the store with a “Gun Free” zone sign. In most cases, if an armed patron is “outed” he or she is simply asked to leave the store or face trespassing charges.

I am not advocating breaking the law, but breaking a store policy is just that – policy. In a sense, I am no different from any other customer. If the store is negligent, and it causes injury, it should be within the right of the patron to sue the store. In all civil cases, everybody is guilty, but one is guiltier than the other. If a store posted a “Floor Slippery When Wet” sign, and I knowingly disregarded the sign, slipped, and incurred an injury, which is at fault? I can’t blame the store, because I did not take the precautions necessary to avoid injury.

Concealed Carrier or No?

Concealed Carrier or No?

On the other side of the coin, who would be liable if I am attacked in a store that does not allow firearms and I have to shoot the attacker to stop a threat. Now, I can be arrested and jailed (even if it was a good shoot), incur legal costs, hope that the charges will be dropped, and regardless of the outcome the attacker (or the attacker’s family) can sue both the store and me; me for wrongful death and the store for allowing me to enter the store while armed (although they did not know I was armed) and causing injury or death. In short, it is not about guns, per se; it is about liability and liability means money. Businesses are not concerned so much about somebody shooting somebody in their business as they are to what it will cost them if it does happen – it is all about the almighty dollar.

Regardless of all that, I do not feel that it is Government’s business to dictate to a private business what they can and cannot do; they do enough of that through consumer protection laws and such; including OSHA mandates that not only help protect the workers but also the public. Only so much can be done to prevent people from being, well, people. The fact remains that if you try to teach book learning to people, some of the people will eat the books.

As was seen with the Waffle-House Bandit example, the “No Firearms Allowed” policy (and sign) did nothing to stop the bad guy from bringing in an AK, which was gong to be used to assist him in robbing the place, nor did it stop the armed patron who prevented that robbery from happening. Apparently, the police did not think ill of the armed (and legally-licensed) patron for doing what he needed to do.

bodyguard article- CopyPerhaps, the next time that we visit a business that has a “No Firearms Allowed” policy (and sign), we should ask for an escort, like Fred on my left, to accompany us while we shop – you know, just to keep us safe from harm. Sorry, just my feeble attempt at being somewhat facetious.

While the proposed bill was garnered with good intentions, good intentions do not always make good laws. Forget the bill, Bob; we’ll somehow make do on our own. Do I agree that some level of liability is required when establishing “Gun-Free Zones?” Absolutely! But, liability is a double-edged sword and we should be careful how it is handled.


About Taurian

Taurian is a U.S. Army veteran and former LEO and Defensive Tactics Instructor. Taurian also has over fifty years of experience as a Technical Writer and Training Program Developer. After leaving home at the age of ten without any shoes, Taurian continues on with many years devoted to the keeping and bearing of arms.

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