Legal Considerations Related to Guns and Meetings

Naomi Angel of Howe & Hutton offers points to legal issues relating to guns at meetings and events.

GUNS-and-event-policy

The latest cover story of Meetings & Conventions tackled the topic of firearms at meetings. It's a complex issue that raises a number of questions, notably: should meeting planners be thinking about guns as they plan their next event? Here, with input from Naomi Angel, partner in the law firm of Howe and Hutton, Ltd., are a handful of ways to prepare. (Be sure to also read our Q&A with Starwood Hotels' former security director, Dave Wiggins, on how a planner can ensure attendee safety in an age of proliferating firearms.)

1. Ask the hotel or conference venue for its policy on firearms and other weapons.

And consider defining the policy in the contract. If a group wants to go further than what the local law allows, communicate the policy in registration materials and post signage to that effect.

"It makes a big difference if your event is in a hotel or a convention center, which is more likely to be owned by the local municipality,"  notes Angel. If indeed it's the latter case, the law should be clear on what rules apply and how to summon the local police if needed.

2. Familiarize yourself with applicable laws.

Follow the news in the host city, since these laws change frequently. Various websites have maps and other useful information, such as the scorecard from the Giffords Law Center.
 
"That's why you need somebody in your organization whose job it is to do the research and to keep it updated,"  Angel notes. Things can change fast: At press time, the state of Texas had just passed a law that grants immunity to gun owners without concealed-carry permits to keep their weapons with them in public for up to 10 days during times of natural disasters.
 
"Basically, if you're signing a contract in 2019 and your convention isn't until 2021, you have to assume the laws could change,"  Angel says. 

3. Do a risk profile of your event.

Are any controversial speakers on the agenda? What's the possibility that demonstrators or a large protest will amass outside the venue? Make sure you have event insurance that includes a waiver of liability.
 
For an event held in a hotel, check to see if the venue's security meets standards recommended by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, which vets individual properties for preparedness.

4. Get security training for all event staff.

"From the standpoint of liability, there's nothing worse than having a policy that is not followed,"  says Angel. "If you have new hires, put them through the training. Current employees should all get a refresher."  
 
And this should apply to anyone who could find themselves in the crosshairs. "You need to train everyone from the CEO to the valet parker,"  Angel says. "Food-service workers, badge checkers, you name it. If not, it's going to come back and bite you." 

5. Consider hiring additional security.

Even if a convention center or hotel has its own security force, you might want to supplement it. If the guard is going to be armed, however, you'll likely have to clear it with the relevant authorities.