Business Notes, September 2011
On July 8, 2011, Wisconsin became the 49th state to adopt some form of a concealed carry law. The legislation, which takes effect on November 1, 2011, has significant implications for Wisconsin businesses.
Prior to the new law, Wisconsin prohibited individuals from carrying concealed weapons. The new law allows licensed individuals to carry a concealed weapon. Most individuals who are at least 21 years old (felons are generally not eligible) will be eligible to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Once a permit is obtained, the permit holder may carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the state, except in schools, police stations, sheriff’s offices, prisons or jails, courthouses, government offices that have electronic screening devices and airports (but only beyond security checkpoints). This means that if a business does not take affirmative action to ban guns at the business, licensed individuals may carry a concealed weapon in the business. However, businesses may choose to ban weapons on their property (with a limited exception discussed below).
Thus, the new law forces Wisconsin businesses to make an important decision: to ban weapons, to allow weapons, or to do nothing (which effectively allows weapons). To implement the decision, businesses must do one of the following: (1) post signs stating that weapons are banned and/or adopt employment policies prohibiting employees from carrying weapons; (2) post a sign that welcomes weapons (think of the signs at Pet Smart that welcome pets); or (3) post no signs and adopt no policies (which effectively allows weapons).
Business owners must weigh a variety of factors when deciding whether to ban, such as customer and employee reactions (both positive and negative). For commercial landlords, an additional complication must be weighed since property owners may ban weapons in common areas, but each individual tenant must decide and post for the tenant’s leased area. Probably the most significant factor, however, is the strong incentive built in to the law to not ban weapons: immunity. People and employers that do not ban are immune from any liability arising from that decision.