Pro-Gun Legislation: Is it 'Open Season' at Meetings & Events?

On Wednesday, April 23, 2014, the state of Georgia enacted a law allowing firearms to be brought into many public accommodations, including hotels, restaurants, bars and churches. In creating this law, Georgia joined several other states in confirming that guns may be carried by licensed persons nearly everywhere they choose to go.

Gun control advocates and others oppose these laws out of concern for public safety.

In the meetings industry, there’s an image of conventions becoming like the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, with attendees heading to meeting rooms with rifles strapped to their backs and pistols in their holsters.

This vision may be overly dramatic. But clearly the increasing permissiveness for firearms is an area of concern for some meeting planners. On the other hand, with some pre-event thought and proper planning it does not need to create a crisis.

At the outset, it’s important to note that fewer restrictions on carrying guns may be a positive development for some meetings and events.

Many people in the United States prefer to carry licensed firearms with them in their daily routine, and 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 the new laws.

For other groups, including those that see firearms as an unnecessary risk at meetings, and groups actively opposed to guns, these laws are not necessarily a disaster.

The legislation may create challenges to conducting a meeting without the presence of firearms, but with some pre-event discussion and planning these groups should be able to conduct their events in “pro-gun” states about the same as they did before the new laws were enacted.

Each state’s laws on firearms are different, so it’s not possible to provide comprehensive suggestions in a brief blog post.

However, here are some things to consider when planning a meeting in an area that may allow licensed firearms to be brought into meetings and events:

  • Review the laws of the state where your meeting will be held with counsel. This is good advice even if you don’t believe that attendees are allowed to carry guns in the jurisdiction where the venue is located, 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 regulations. The rules will vary state-by-state.
  • 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 exclude persons carrying firearms.
  • Create a written policy on firearms for your organization, and then enforce it. Arguments and confusion about the right to bring guns to meetings will be minimized if a clear policy statement is developed in advance of an event, and then made known to prospective attendees at time of registration. Particularly if firearms will be prohibited, this should be made clear to attendees in advance.
  • If your organization chooses to ban firearms, if meeting in a “pro-gun” state consider implementing policies and security measures to keep firearms out. It is often permissible to ask attendees to 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.
  • Check with your insurance carrier about the rates for General Liability Insurance if an event will permit attendees to carry firearms, as opposed to prohibiting firearms. Rates may be higher if firearms will be present.
  • If alcoholic beverages will be served at an event, give particular consideration to whether a meeting otherwise permitting firearms should ban weapons at the particular functions where alcohol will be present. 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 and weapons are involved greatly increases the threat of potential liability for the meeting sponsor, the venue and also the person carrying a weapon at the event.

Final Note: This blog is not “legal advice”; rather, it’s a discussion intended to make you think and draw your own conclusions. Legal advice can only be rendered after a discussion of your particular circumstances with an attorney competent in meetings law.

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