Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm
Will your employees conceal and carry?
New law would have impact on workplace
Wisconsin businesses, which sat idly by as state legislators forged a conceal-and-carry weapons bill this year, will nonetheless be significantly affected if the proposal is approved.
The state Senate already has approved a bill that will require county sheriffs to issue conceal-and-carry permits to any qualified residents who apply for them. The Assembly is considering an identical version of the bill.
Although Gov. Jim Doyle has vowed to veto any conceal-and-carry bill that reaches his desk, Republican leaders in Madison say they have enough support in the legislature to override his veto.
"I feel confident we’re going to have better than the two-thirds majority on the vote," said Robert Seitz, chief of staff for state Sen. Dave Zien (R-Eau Claire), the co-sponsor of the bill.
Wisconsin’s significant business lobbying groups, including the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, did not take a stand for or against the conceal-and-carry bill.
However, their members will surely be affected if the bill becomes law.
In particular, business owners who will want to do all they can to ensure that no employees, vendors or customers are concealing and carrying weapons at the workplace will find a trip-wire of sorts in the law.
The bill grants immunity of liability for any business that does not post signs or otherwise attempt to forbid weapons at the workplace, in accordance with the law.
However, if a business owner chooses to post signs or otherwise informs its employees, vendors or customers that weapons are forbidden on site, that business "is on your own," Seitz said.
"If you as an employer do not prohibit carry for your employees or the public, you are guaranteed to be free of liability," Seitz said.
That ironic provision has several southeastern Wisconsin business owners and insurance executives scratching their heads about the merits of the bill (see accompanying article).
"When I first heard the (Senate) had passed it, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, is this going to open up a whole can of worms,’" said David Schuppler, president of the Schuppler & Associates, a Wauwatosa-based commercial insurance carrier. "To me, that’s going to just open up a Pandora’s box. I don’t think there was a lot of forethought put into that legislation."
Schuppler predicts that commercial liability and worker’s compensation insurance policies will need to be rewritten to include "all kinds" of exclusions and riders.
"How many carriers are going to say, ‘Whoa, if that’s the case, we’re not writing this coverage.’ I can’t imagine calling an underwriter and saying, ‘We insure the ABC shop, and they’re going to carry and conceal weapons. What do you think?’ They’re going to drop them immediately," Schuppler said.
"It’s almost like we are as a society reverting back to the old Wild West," he said. "It’s like what’s happening in Iraq, where everyone and anyone’s walking around carrying weapons. … My God, here we are in a war on terrorism, and we’re going to do this?"
However, proponents of the bill, such as Seitz, contend that more "good guys" carrying concealed weapons will reduce crime, because criminals will be less inclined to act if they fear their victims may be armed.
Both proponents and critics of the bill can cite crime data to support their stances.
If the bill is enacted, one thing, both sides acknowledge, is certain: More people will carry concealed weapons.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice estimates that 35,000 residents will apply for permits in the first year after the bill is enacted, and many of them will be first-time handgun owners who will seek the training needed to gain a permit.
Wisconsin Attorney General Pat Lautenschlager, a Democrat, has been particularly critical of a provision of the bill that requires two steps before a business owner can pursue a criminal complaint against someone carrying a weapon:
(1) The business owner must post a sign at the main entrance of the company, advising people that weapons are forbidden on the site; and
(2) The business must "personally and orally" advise anyone who is carrying a concealed weapon that the weapons are forbidden.
A criminal complaint can only be filed if the alleged violator has received that dual notification and still refuses to leave, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said.
Such a requirement will be problematic for business venues that attract large public crowds, such as concert sites, office towers and shopping malls.
"We find it very difficult to find a compelling argument for this law," said Michael Mervis, assistant to the chairman of Zilber Ltd., the parent company of Towne Investments, which owns the Alpine Valley Music Center in East Troy and the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee, as well as 5 million square feet of office space in southeastern Wisconsin.
"People seem to get into enough trouble under normal circumstances. The idea of people walking around packing firearms that are not visible does not make anyone feel safer, and it’s not conducive to good business," Mervis said.
Mervis and other business owners say they suspect business organizations decided not to oppose the conceal-and-carry bill because it had become a pet issue for Republican legislators who tend to advocate other legislation that favors business interests.
"The most dangerous society on the face of the earth, in terms of handguns, has made a public policy decision that it wants to become even more dangerous. And businesses, quite frankly, were afraid to speak up," Mervis said.
"Here we sit in the middle, trying to figure out how to deal with things other people pass," said Stephen Smith, senior general manager of Mayfair Mall. "It’s going to change a lot of things. And look at 7-11 stores and fast-food and mini-market gas stations that are usually understaffed … and the hours they operate. It really just opens up the possibility for many other businesses to be impacted by this."
Banks also are concerned about the bill.
"I think it’s a huge mistake, the whole effort," said P. Michael Mahoney, president of Park Bank, Milwaukee. "We’d probably have to see what we have to do from a security standpoint to protect our employees. Metal detectors – that certainly will be one of the things we’ll have to look into. "Our primary concern is for the safety and protection of the employees and the customers," Mahoney said. "I thought it was interesting that the first amendment to the bill was, ‘It’s OK to conceal or carry out in the real world, we’ll pass it, but we don’t want it in the capitol buildings.’ I’m not sure this was the most important issue that Republicans should have taken on right now."
Seitz contends bank customers will be safer if they carry concealed weapons.
"Of all the places you should carry, banks are the most important. If you can’t carry your gun into the bank, you can’t protect yourself," Seitz said.
Seitz said 36 other states have approved "shall issue" conceal-and-carry permit laws.
One of those states is Minnesota, which enacted its conceal-and-carry law in May.
The Minnesota law also includes the provision that a business must post signs and personally and orally inform patrons that weapons are forbidden on the site, before a criminal complaint can be filed.
Many Minnesota state and business officials are second-guessing that provision, according to Mark Geier, a partner of the MacKall, Crounse & Moore law firm in Minneapolis.
"I mean, we can ban cigarettes, but we can’t ban guns? … You’ll see a lot of places now where people are putting up signs banning weapons on their premises. You’ll see them in the malls and in the restaurants, but you’re not seeing a lot of individual notices," said Geier, who has given counsel about the new law to hundreds of Minnesota businesses.
Many Minneapolis small companies have revised their workplace guidelines to account for the new law, Geier said.
"The most common thing you’re seeing now is businesses that have never had employee handbooks or a policy banning guns have added an employee handbook or adopted a new policy banning weapons on the job. That’s a very common thing now," Geier said.
"If you don’t ban them on the job, then people have the right to bring them on the job," Geier said. "They’re also concerned about the way employees feel about the idea that someone else at the workplace might have a gun. And employers are asking me, ‘What are my liability risks?’"
Other employers are worried that certain "hothead" employees can legally conceal a weapon in the workplace, Geier said.
Much like the business lobby in Wisconsin, Minnesota’s business community was largely silent during the debate leading up to passage of that state’s conceal-and-carry law, according to Tom Hesse, director of labor management policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
"I think many employers are waiting to see how others react. We took no position on the bill," Hesse said. "There certainly are some of our members who wonder why the legislature spent so much time on conceal-and-carry legislation."
So far, that wait-and-see approach also has been the norm for Wisconsin’s business associations.
"We are a lobbying group, and we have not taken a position on the bill, and I am not aware of how, if the bill is passed into law, the companies will use it as a tool, so you are just way, way, way ahead of me," said Eric Englund, president of the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance. "I just don’t know. It has not been called to my attention from companies at this point in time."
The carry-and-conceal bill has one other provision that raises the eyebrows of business owners. Under the provision, a county board — with a two-thirds voting majority — may opt out of the absolute "shall issue" clause of the bill to enable its county sheriff to legally decide against issuing permits. However, the sheriff is not required to follow that guideline and can still issue permits to qualified applicants.
Nov. 14, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee