Should Stores Ban Guns?

Man with a handgun in his back pocket
By Richard Dahl on September 09, 2019 6:00 AM

The Second Amendment grants individuals a right to bear arms, but what rights do private businesses have to keep gun carriers off their premises?

The question, while not new, has gained new urgency in recent days following the announcements by several major national retailers “asking” that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms in their stores. On Sept.3, Walmart and Kroger issued statements making that request; two days later, the national drug chains CVS and Walgreens followed suit along with Wegmans Food Markets.

The simple answer is: Yes, despite the Second Amendment, a retailer can generally prohibit guns of any sort on their premises.

Laws Vary Widely

Doing so, however, depends on the state in which the business is located – because gun laws vary dramatically from state to state. States that allow open carrying of firearms – the majority, in other words – require business owners to post signs on their property if they wish to ban guns.

The requirements vary widely, and the toughest of them place legal burdens on business owners.

“For example, some state laws, such as Kansas’s, require that an authorized representative of the business approach the armed customer and ask him to leave, even after he has seen and ignored the legally compliant, ‘No Guns’ sign in the window,” Christine M. Quinn writes in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform. “Only after the armed customer refuses to leave is he committing a crime.”

At least in many states, business owners thus face risks when they try to keep guns off the premises. This probably explains why Walmart and Kroger (and, before them, Starbucks and Target) are taking a softer “voluntary” approach in keeping only openly carried guns, and not concealed handguns, out.  

‘No Gun’ Policies and the Bottom Line

In discouraging gun owners from coming through their doors, companies run financial risks. Walmart says it expects that its percentage share of the ammunition market in the U.S. will drop from 20% to 6-9%.  When Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling assault-type guns after the Parkland school massacre last year, it took a $150 million hit as the result of a boycott from gun owners.

And how Walmart, Kroger, and Walgreen’s will enforce these voluntary restrictions is unclear. “Store workers will have to be trained how to request that customers not openly carry their weapons, and the laws can vary by state,” the New York Times reported on Sept. 3.

Store owners have great latitude in banning anyone they don’t like, so long as the banishment is not based on bias against a federally protected class of people (that is, based on color, disability, familial status, national origin, race, religion, or sex).

If you’re a store owner, you can ban a person handing out political literature on your property even though that person has First Amendment rights of freedom of expression. You can ban proselytizers despite our recognition of freedom of religion.

And you can try to ban guns. But you might be running a risk.

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