Guns on Premises

...law-abiding people of their ability to defend themselves; thus, the responsibility for defense must pass to the person or entity restricting firearms.

This logic upends the conventional wisdom for how businesses and property owners can protect themselves from liability for gun violence.

Until recently, the prevailing advice to businesses and property owners was to make it clear they did not allow firearms on their premises. The logic behind that approach was that property owners should not be responsible for injuries from guns brought onsite against their expressed wishes.

The prerogative to prohibit guns on premises is being eroded, however, especially in respect to guns owned by employees.

Most notably, about half the states have adopted “parking lot laws,”which generally prohibit employers from interfering with employee rights to have legal firearms in their own cars when parked in company lots. (Under most such laws, employers can require that the guns be hidden from view and within a locked compartment. Employers are also generally allowed to prohibit weapons in company-owned cars.)

States are taking steps to prevent employers from considering an applicant’s gun ownership in hiring decisions. Wisconsin’s “concealed carry” law prohibits employers from denying employment on the basis that an applicant is licensed to carry a weapon. In Indiana, employers are barred from even asking whether an applicant or employee owns guns.

Landlords’ quandary

As the limits of gun prohibitions on commercial property are being challenged, residential landlords are also finding their prerogative to prohibit guns being curtailed. Virginia prohibits lease terms that would restrict residents from lawful ownership of firearms within dwelling units. Minnesota has a similar provision that also allow guests of a tenant to have lawful firearms on premises.

Property owners operating in multiple states can’t be happy about the prospect of a new patchwork of approaches toward premises liability for guns, and even property owners within a single jurisdiction will be challenged to come up with an approach that satisfies all stakeholders, promotes public safety, and achieves business objectives.

Landlords clearly need legal advice to address questions rising in a rapidly changing area of the law:

It may be best not to ask such questions if you’re not serious about acting on the answers, however. Gun restrictions that are posted with no effort to monitor or enforce them can actually create liability for a property manager if someone who honors the ban is killed or injured by someone who doesn’t.

The best response for a property owner may be to avoid making gun policy on its own, and instruct its lessees to do the same, and let the public, through their legislative representatives, write the rules for public safety and our personal liability for protecting it.

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1 Under the original bill, a plaintiff would have to demonstrate that the posted prohibition actually prevented him or her from carrying a weapon into an establishment. If a permit holder left his/her gun at home to run errands to several establishments, some of which allowed guns and some didn’t, he/she might not be able to bring an action under the bill.

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Guns on Premises

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Sheila E. Salvatore, Editor | Editor@AdjustersInternational.com | 126 Business Park Drive | Utica, NY 13502

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