Attendees to a seminar focusing on the new Concealed Carry law in Wisconsin said they were more scared of lawyers than the actual law taking effect Nov. 1. Business owners who plan to prohibit firearms may not have immunity against certain negligence claims.
At the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce's seminar held at ABC Supply Co. Thursday, more than 70 guests gathered to hear details on Concealed Carry from Jon Anderson and Tom O'Day from the law firm of Godfrey Kahn of Madison and Milwaukee and Sgt. Jay Williams of the Rock County Sheriff's Office.
Attendees represented those from educational and religious institutions as well as those from a jewelry store, automotive dealership, liquor store, bowling alley, home care business, manufacturer, maternal health clinic and more.
Licensed individuals over the age of 21 who have provided proof of training will be able to carry concealed weapons in Wisconsin after required registration starting Nov. 1. Williams said he expects the first people to be permitted in 46 days. Weapons can include handguns, electric weapons, knives, switch blades and billy clubs.
The biggest concern among business owners is liability. Because of the language of the policy, those businesses that allow people with weapons have immunity under the law in the event of acts of violence or accidents in the workplace resulting in injuries or death.
"It's the legislature's carrot," Anderson said.
However, those businesses and organizations which will prohibit weapons could be liable for negligence claims in the event of accidents or injuries. The discussions raised on Thursday many "what if" scenarios which caused fear of liability to escalate in the audience.
"I hope we never get the answer to some of these questions," Anderson said.
For example, if businesses prohibit concealed carry and an employee is shot in a violent act, it could be argued in court the business didn't allow employees to protect themselves. There could also be liability if a customer, for example, slips on a wet floor and accidentally discharges the firearm injuring an employee.
Under the new law, licensed individuals may carry concealed weapons. The exceptions to the law are in police stations, sheriff's departments, courtrooms, prisons and jails and schools. People may carry concealed weapons in taverns, although they aren't allowed to carry if they are drinking or intoxicated. Anderson said exceptions haven't been made yet for hospitals, banks and churches. Weapons can't be carried on school grounds, but can be carried within 1,000 feet of the school.
Although concealed weapons won't be allowed in certain establishments, licensed individuals may carry weapons in their vehicles in parking lots of the establishments.
Businesses that wish to prohibit concealed carry will be required to post signs, at least 5-by-7-inches in size, to entrances of parking lots so people know not to bring weapons inside. Signs would also be required at entrances to the buildings in highly visible locations. Anderson advised signs have the strike-through symbol so people who aren't English speakers can understand them. The likely language of the signs will read "firearms and weapons are prohibited on these premises." He said signs will likely be going on sale soon at office supply stores.
Businesses planning to permit concealed carry, don't have to do anything different, but are advised to explain their prohibition policy to employees, define weapons included and to implement a discipline policy for employees who may break the policy. Even if employers don't prohibit, Anderson recommended notifying employees and customers of their decision via a newsletter or company bulletin board.
Although employers can ban weapons from their employer-owned vehicles, they can't ban them from employee vehicles, even if the vehicles are used for work purposes.
With weapons allowed in vehicles, some business people expressed concerns that people might be breaking into more cars and looking for weapons to steal. Other business owners were concerned about potential accidents which could result from a weapon going off.
Jan Stein, who said she's affiliated with a maternal health non-profit group said she had concerns about children getting into purses or diaper bags with concealed weapons. Another woman with a home care business, was concerned about when caregivers visit homes. Other business people had concerns about auto technicians who may be test driving vehicles with concealed weapons.
Anderson said the businesses have the right to regulate, short of prohibition, and may require that weapons be in a locked mechanism to help protect employees and customers. If a business allows weapons, he advised stating the regulations at the front desk of the business to protect against negligence claims. Some business owners were concerned that if they decide to prohibit, and post signs, that some customers may be offended. Other businesses were concerned about customers or vendors being upset if they do allow Concealed Carry.
Owners of commercial property, Anderson said, may have to enter into contractual agreements with tenants. Because concealed carry is allowed in private property, apartment renters have the right to tote the weapons from their vehicle to their apartment via the elevator and walkways, even if the weapons are prohibited from the building and common areas.
Anderson said that the Department of Justice will be issuing regulations in the next two weeks, but added that the NRA is lobbying to influence the regulatory environment.