Forum speakers ease worries of business owners wrestling with new gun law
While keeping soaring health-insurance premiums and other employee expenses in check continues to be a top priority for most employers, a panel of experts told business leaders and local officials that coping with the state’s new concealed-carry law need not be added to their litany of concerns.
Nearly 100 people attended last week’s First Friday Forum on the Mequon campus of Milwaukee Area Technical College to discuss how businesses should deal with the state’s new gun legislation.
Driving the spirited discussion was the question of whether business owners stand to benefit or be hurt by allowing — or banning — weapons at the workplace.
Insurance agent Tony Matera of Ansay & Associates in Port Washington offered the most welcomed assessment for bottom-line-weary business owners wondering whether to post “no weapons allowed” signs at their doors.
“There will be no change in the insurance rating whatsoever if you post or don’t post. Should an incident occur (involving the use of a weapon at the workplace), your general liability carrier has a requirement to defend you to the limits of your coverage, regardless of whether you have a sign,” Matera said.
“Posting a sign is not going to affect your insurance rates. It’s not like how having a sprinkler system in your building affects your rates.”
As of last month, Matera said the state had received more than 65,000 concealed-carry permit applications and issued 36,000 permits.
Even though Wisconsin’s concealed-carry law only went into effect in November, Matera said national insurance carriers already have considerable experience with the weapons question in 48 other states.
Those companies have weighed the impact of allowing — or banning — weapons at the workplace many times and determined that either approach does not increase the likelihood of liability claims.
That doesn’t mean business owners aren’t grappling with how to deal with the “hot button” concealed-carry law.
Helping Matera provide context to that question at the forum were Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol, attorney Mark Goldstein and Sheriff’s Department Capt. Dave Guss.
Goldstein, who specializes in workplace law, noted that the concealed-carry issue has generated varied responses.
“One argument is that you are best served by doing nothing,” he said, noting that the law grants immunity from liability to employers who simply follow what the law allows.
Goldstein said proponents of the law contend a workplace is safer with properly trained individuals around, or even with the perception that employees may be carrying concealed weapons.
If signs are posted, he said references should be made to the specific legislation as well as the state’s long-standing open-carry law. If local ordinances place tighter restrictions on the ability to carry weapons, they should be cited on the sign, Goldstein said.
He showed a variety of weapons signs, including those used at Miller Park, Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital and MATC. A sign posted at the Jewish Community Center even takes the question to a higher authority, citing a passage from the Torah.
Legally speaking, Goldstein said posting a sign has nominal significance.
“What are you really saying if you post a sign that says ‘no guns allowed?’ You are not taking on too much liability. You are not saying you intend to frisk people at your door or use a metal detector,” he said.
Goldstein said options need to be studied carefully in cases where a landlord has a different philosophy about allowing weapons than a tenant business owner.
Matera said business owners have immunity from prosecution if they do not interfere with the concealed-carry law, but “the extent of that immunity is not clearly defined.”
Guss said local law-enforcement personnel and other emergency workers have been working to refine policies on dealing with people who are carrying concealed weapons, but those steps have been more precautionary in nature.
“We’ve been told all hell would break out when this went into effect, and it really hasn’t,” Guss said.
“Each state has its own gun culture — what is common in Texas is not common in Wisconsin — and we are not the first ones to be dealing with things like the question of signage.”
Guss said the law-enforcement sector generally supports the concept behind the concealed-carry law, but is critical that the state Department of Justice had a greater role in writing the law than representatives the state’s police agencies.
He took particular exception to the determination of who is barred from getting a concealed-carry permit, and what training is required.
“In most of the courses, you are not going to touch a gun. I think you really need to experience holding a weapon in your hands before you are able to get a permit,” Guss said.
Saukville Police Chief Bill Meloy, a 40-year firearms instructor, said the dire predictions made about the fallout from the concealed-carry law have proven unfounded.
“We haven’t had one report of anyone walking down the streets of Saukville, waving a gun around,” Meloy said. “But I do know of people who live right next door to schools who are carrying guns.”
Guss said law-enforcement officers would use discretion in enforcing weapon restrictions at businesses.
“It is up to you whether to call law enforcement. If you become aware that a customer is carrying a weapon, maybe you see a gun when a customer reaches inside his jacket for his wallet, in most cases we would work with the individual, telling them the business is posted and asking them to comply,” he said.
“However, if the individual is belligerent or is trying to make an issue of it, we would treat that differently. In those cases, we would probably issue citations.”
Former Ozaukee County Supr. David W. Barrow III said he pays careful attention to which businesses allow customers to carry weapons through their doors.
“I have told several business owners that they won’t be seeing me or my credit card as long as they are posted, and that is my choice,” Barrow said.
“Of course, in a year or two we are going to wonder what all the fuss was about.”
Even with the concealed-carry law on the books, Gerol said, posting weapon restrictions as a condition of doing business is always an option.
“Any private business owner has the right to place restrictions on who he or she will do business with, as long as those restrictions do not exclude a class of people,” he said.
“You can always refuse people access to your premises for cause, but that extends to such things as having muddy shoes.”