The open carry gun movement and corporate security

Gun advocacy rallies raise a question for corporate security: Do you allow customers to openly carry?

On Friday, March 5, 2010, at a public plaza situated among restaurants and retail shops in Palo Alto, Calif., a group of people planned to show up with guns on their hips. It wasn't going to be a massive shootout or a group robbery or even gangland violence. The guns weren't even going to be loaded. It was, instead, an open demonstration of 2nd amendment rights supporters who were there partially to challenge the city's law banning open carrying of firearms (the state allows open carry, but the city ordinance differs). The group was affiliated with, an online community supporting unconcealed carrying of unloaded firearms; the group assists in organizing meet-ups of its supporters. The logic behind the group's actions is centered on two things: 1) to use their right of open carry, under the belief that a right which is not exercised can be lost, and 2) to advocate for better access to concealed carry permits in California.

On the surface, it doesn't sound like much of a traditional security issue, as much as it is politics/NRA/second amendment topic -- except that sometimes these meet-ups are held at private businesses, or at least private businesses are so close to these public spaces that they can be impacted.

According to a March 7, 2010, article from The New York Times titled "Locked, Loaded, and Ready to Caffeinate," the open carry movement has organized demonstrations of its principles, and a Sept. 18, 2009 memo from Sunnyvale, California's Deputy Chief of Police Mark Stivers references a recent open carry meet-up where movement members carried publically at a Starbucks in the community. The memo (view PDF of memo) notes that the demonstration was quite small (only two attendees actually had weapons on them, the other five attendees were unarmed supporters). In the follow-up memo, Stivers offers clear information on what the proper law enforcement response is in his community. The law varies state-by-state and sometimes city-by-city, but Stivers gets into some law enforcement perspectives outside of California in his lengthy memo.

For the corporate security manager, this movement has direct implications. First, the business is going to have to face questions as to whether it has policies about guns on its premises and what those rules are. For Starbucks, there is currently no rule forbidding legally carried weapons on the premises. Other businesses do have such rules; the New York Times article specifically notes that California Pizza Kitchen (a West Coast pizza chain) and Peet's Coffee and Tea (a Starbucks competitor) do disallow weapons, even those that are legally carried.

The second issue is about the impact upon the business. The role of a security manager often extends beyond simple management of guards and oversight of technical security systems like alarm panels, door access control and surveillance cameras. Today, the role of the security manager is linked with business continuity and risk mitigation. Of course, when a second amendment advocacy group organizes a meet-up on or adjacent to your premises, there often is a response from community groups who don't support the right to openly carry unloaded firearms. And that means a protest situation, which is going to impact the business. Protests and reports of openly carried firearms also will likely mean the arrival of law enforcement officers, who are there to verify that the situation isn't a potentially violent incident and to check the legality of the weapons. Again, if this is on or adjacent to business premises, security personnel have a situation to manage and one that could temporarily disrupt business.

According to Felix Nater, an IAPSC certified security consultant (CSC) who runs the consulting firm Nater Associates, the open carry issue should be one important to corporate security professionals.

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