. Urgent Wakeup Call: Mass Shootings and the Meetings Industry | Northstar Meetings Group

Urgent Wakeup Call: Mass Shootings and the Meetings Industry

The author argues that it's way past time for meeting professionals to take steps to mitigate the threat of gun violence. 

For a number of years, I've been presenting on disruptions facing the events industry, and of all potential crises -- economic, political, technological, social, etc. -- guns and shootings remain the most terrifying. The following is my opinion on the matter.

The most impactful disruptions are the ones we don't see coming, and given the devastating effects of mass shootings at events, it's shocking how little discussion there has been on the topic.

Mass shooters seek target-rich environments such as schools, places of worship, movie theaters and nightclubs. In short, assailants hone in on places where people gather. Events fit this profile and, at this point, I would argue we've been lucky more massacres haven't taken place. Still, the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting that killed 59 people in Las Vegas in 2017 should have gotten the meetings industry more mobilized about sensible gun control. Instead, most of the action I've seen barely surpasses active shooter drills. 

The Planner's Duty-of-Care Imperative

At its core, gun control is a safety issue. The duty-of-care principle calls for meeting planners to do whatever possible to safeguard the well-being of attendees, staff and other stakeholders throughout an event. When thinking of all the things that could go wrong, surely nothing would be worse than mass murder. 
 
Firearms regulation is our responsibility, plain and simple. Just about any other risk would galvanize the industry to action. Yet, while we're proactive in most other situations, I believe we're far too passive on guns. We can and must address both the cause and symptoms of the issue at hand.

Guns and Business Risk

Foreseeing risk shouldn't be a problem for our industry: The Las Vegas shooting, deadliest in U.S. history, took place at a festival. Festival is practically synonymous with conference, convention, meeting, gathering. If, however, you still don't see the connection, let's paint an image closer to home.
 
Imagine someone committing a mass shooting at the most important high-profile event you plan. What would the fallout entail? What legal implications would your company face? I would imagine all future events would suddenly have a much less attractive risk/reward calculus. And if you continued with carrying out said meetings, how big of an attendance drop would you suffer? How many sponsors would pull out? How muted would the experience be? The damage doesn't stop.
 
Even if you think society has become desensitized to shootings, keep in mind that no other country is experiencing such devastating incidents, and that international attendees are already rethinking U.S. travel. In fact, countries are continuously issuing U.S. travel advisory warnings on gun violence risks
 
It doesn't take much to mar the optics of events. We've seen several examples. In 2008, after receiving $85 billion in government aid, AIG took enormous heat for spending $430,000 on an executive retreat at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort. Incentive events like this are standard operating procedure for the insurance industry, yet this incident led many companies to cancel their programs for fear of "the AIG effect."

Unrelated but also true is the potential financial kickback. In the event of a shooting, meetings as a whole would undoubtedly start to incur significantly higher security costs due to the necessity of additional guards, metal detectors, physical barriers, surveillance cameras and beyond. Registration lists would have to be scrutinized more carefully. Tighter security for vendors at loading docks would slow installation processes and require longer rental periods. The armies of catering and event staff might have to go through background checks. Insurance for venues, hosts and suppliers would increase. Why are we not further mitigating fallout before it occurs? 

Open-Carry Laws

Event attendees openly carrying firearms also should be a cause for planner concern. Picture the impact of someone carrying a holstered handgun arguing with registration personnel. Even if you're able to restrict firearms at your event -- which a number of states won't allow you to do -- it's unlikely you'd be able to stop people from being armed in common areas (e.g., the convention center or hotel lobby) or ancillary event sites. See: Can We Keep Guns Out of Meetings?
 
According to research by Gifford's Law Center, 44 U.S. states currently allow the open carrying of rifles and shotguns (long guns) with no permit required; 31 permit the open carrying of handguns. Only 15 states require some type of licensing. It's imperative to know what's regulated and what's not in the destination of your next meeting. With knowledge, you can better plan for appropriate risk management. 

The Meeting Planner's Voice

Given the potentially devastating impact of guns and gun violence, it's surprising and quite frankly disappointing that the industry hasn't been more vocal in advocating for sensible gun safety. 
 
Planners have a voice and can use it as they please. Past instances show our impact has been noticed: The movement to fight human trafficking has received broad support. The same can be said of sustainability and advancing inclusivity/diversity.
 
"Ah, but those issues aren't as controversial as guns," some might say. "No one is actually in favor of human trafficking, right?" Well, look at the industry's response to recent anti-LGBTQ state laws -- something more controversial than sustainability, one might say -- which had notable support in those states.

We have the power and authority to make a difference. What will it take for us to start speaking out on the mortal threat gun violence poses to safeguarding our events? Where is the outrage?

Taking a Stand

Let's not wait until another atrocity occurs. Now is the time to act. Planners can start by advocating two policy initiatives which already enjoy widespread and bipartisan public support. 

Institute Universal Background Checks

The Senate has passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R. 8). In doing so, it closed the "gun show loophole" that exempts private firearms sales from standard background checks. According to a Public Policy Polling survey, 83 percent of gun owners support the implementation of expanded background checks on sales of all firearms, including 72 percent of all NRA members. We can support the initiative, too. 

Reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban -- which states weapons of war should be reserved for the military, police and other properly trained security forces -- expired in 2004. Yet Politico reports 70 percent of American voters would continue to support such a ban if it were to resurface. I believe that the reinstatement should be the bare minimum our industry begins advocating for.

So, what's to do next? There are a few things.

  • Sign the Event Leadership Institute's petition supporting the two basic gun-safety proposals outlined above.
  • If you lend your name to this effort, get involved and share your ideas. Email me directly. I'm looking to form an advisory council of thought leaders who want to make a difference.
  • Contact your elected officials and let them know how this issue impacts your events.
  • Share your concerns on social media. Email editors at industry publications. Talk to your association leaders.

Make your voice heard. Stand up and be counted. Your event attendees' safety -- and your livelihood -- might very well depend on it.

Howard Givner, CEO and founder, Event Leadership Institute, has over 20 years of industry experience and is a widely recognized expert and innovator in the field of events, business-growth strategy, technology and education. He is the founder of the Event Leadership Institute (launched in April 2011) -- provider of training and education for the events industry, through online, on-demand video classes, interviews with industry leaders, white papers, webcasts and live events. Givner also serves as a consultant to companies in the hospitality, meetings and event industries, specializing in strategic planning, sales growth, management, and mergers and acquisitions, and selectively consults with business owners on a number of engagements. Learn more at HowardGivner.com.