What about those pesky, ridiculous "no guns" or "no weapons" signs posted at restaurants, bars or other businesses? What are the laws regarding them and what can we do about them?
First, remember that Wisconsin is 49th of 50 states to get concealed carry. There is a learning curve. Illinois now has concealed carry, but has 168 pages of regulations and getting a permit there requires 16 hours of training! Concealed carry has been greatly effective in reducing violent crime because criminals fear armed citizens more than cops (and there are very few cops, especially when you need one right now!) Criminals love disarmed citizens, as it makes their jobs so much easier and safer.
Second, businesses that post such signs are setting themselves up for liability issues, according to state law as posted on the WI Dept. of Justice website and taught in our class.
Businesses that do NOT post can't be held liable for incidents that happen with permit holders. CLICK HERE FOR SIGN LIABILITY INFORMATION (PAGE 35 AT LINK) or read below.
Wisconsin’s concealed carry law does not exempt individual license holders from civil liability for their actions. You could be sued and found liable for property damage, injury, or deaths caused by your actions.
The only liability protection provided by Wisconsin statute is for the following actors: (footnote 29)
• A person who does not prohibit an individual from carrying a concealed weapon on property that the person owns or occupies is immune from any liability arising from his or her decision.
• An employer who does not prohibit one or more employees from carrying a concealed weapon is immune from any liability arising from that decision.
• A person providing a firearms training course in good faith is immune from liability from any act or omission related to the course if the course is one of the courses listed in statute.
Wis. Stat. § 895.62 also affects liability in certain situations, and is shown in Appendix F.
However, even with these statutory provisions, there may be circumstances where the actors described may be exposed to liability. A discussion of such situations is beyond the scope of this course.
29 Wis. Stat. § 175.60(21)(b)-(d).
There are two reasons why no business or person should post such signs at their restaurant, bar or workplace, including such places as a hospital:
1. When someone sees the "no guns" or "no weapons" sign, there is a reasonable expectation of safety (if you make the absurd assumption that anyone obeys this sign, including crazed killers or those criminals intent on homicide, robbery, etc.) A person bringing his or her family to a restaurant with such a sign could argue that they assumed they would be safe. If a crime then occurs that leaves that person or a member of his family injured or killed, clearly there is no state statute protecting the business from being sued. But if the business does NOT post this sign, there is a state statute protecting the business from a lawsuit.
2. When a person carrying concealed sees such a sign and then returns to his car to leave his handgun behind because of that sign, if this person (or someone else who might be protected by this person) is then injured or killed, clearly he or she has the right to sue, arguing that the sign forced him or her to return his handgun to the car to comply with the sign and the law, thereby leaving him unprotected and vulnerable to attack. State statute would support his lawsuit as shown above.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin has advised its members of this same liability to posting bars and restaurants with "no guns" signs. Click here for the link.
The Tavern League puts it this way after a discussion about the law's protection for businesses that do not post such signs:
Conversely, business owners have also been concerned that if they prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons on their property, and an altercation occurs resulting in the injury or death to a law abiding patron, they would be subject to liability because they didn’t afford that patron the ability to protect themselves through the carrying of a concealed weapon.
So what can we as gun owners and concealed carry permit owners do to stop the posting of these signs?
First, patronize the businesses who do not post their properties. Thank them and tell them that you appreciate their common sense. When the law was first passed, the CEO of Festival Foods was interviewed about why he did not post such signs at his grocery stores. He said that he was not worried about those with concealed carry permits, who had gone through all the trouble and expense to get their permits as law-abiding citizens would do. He said he was "more worried about the people who already carry who don't have permits." Exactly! How refreshing to hear this common sense! If we used this sign logic elsewhere, we'd post "no bank robberies" on every bank and "no school shootings" on every school and we'd have no more problems. If only the criminals intent on committing homicide, robbery and other mayhem were just worried about those signs, none of us would need to carry guns! But in the real world, they don't worry about the signs--we do.
Second, always make your feelings known to the business owner or manager. The waiter, waitress or hostess probably can't do much, but make sure you let everyone know in a polite, well-stated way. If possible, do it in writing, either in a suggestion box or even better, in a sealed letter hand-delivered to the attention of the business owner or manager.
You have two options: either state that you would love to continue doing business with this place and will continue to do so, but hope they would reconsider taking the sign down (and mention the liability problems mentioned above), OR, if you really feel strongly, tell them that you do love their food, service or products, but you will no longer do business with them because of their policies. I know personally of someone who has done this in Clintonville and if enough people do this, the bargaining power of a loss in business may persuade them to take down the signs.
Sometimes it is just a matter of ignorance. I was putting a poster up for a class at a small bar and the owner mentioned how she was planning on posting a no-guns sign. I told her about how she would then be liable in the event of an incident involving a concealed carry permit holder and she said, "In that case, forget it!" Some businesses see the signs elsewhere and assume they should do the same. The opposite is true.
This great "No Guns = No Business" card is one example of something you can give to a business owner who posts a "no guns" sign. I think it could be very effective, especially if your gun club hands them out to every business that posts! No Guns Equals No Money sign.
Print some of these and hand them out to business owners who post "no guns" signs, carefully and politely explaining why their signs not only won't stop criminals, but also increase their liability. I've also seen a card that mentions how much the store owner knows about you. Here's my card. I'm a gun owner, concealed carry permit holder, honest citizen, family member, NRA member...write it to include the basics of who you are. "How much do you know about your other customers? I will obey your wishes. Will they?"
SAMPLE LETTER: I would recommend you write a polite, concise letter in your own words to describe your feelings. Or you can use mine below and change it to fit your needs:
Dear business owner (better if you use their name):
I love your pizza/burgers/bowling alley/bar/store and would certainly love to keep shopping here. I've had many good times here with my family and friends. But the safety of my family and friends are the reason I'm seriously thinking about shopping elsewhere.
You probably thought that posting a "no guns" sign made things safer here, but as we all know, in this day and age, that sort of thinking is very naive. Schools all have these "no guns" signs, but we all know there have been lots of shootings at schools. Criminals won't obey these signs any more than they will worry about committing homicide or robbery.
I decided to do something about this problem, so I took a concealed carry course and obtained the legal right to carry a handgun. When I have to leave my gun in the car, I am disarmed, and that is not a good, safe situation for me or my family and friends.
You know me. You've seen me in here many times. Look around and see if you can say that about everyone else. If you know these regulars, do you trust them enough to let them defend themselves and their families?
We trust you with providing safe food (whatever they provide), and we feel you are a friend who provides us with a good product. But we do not feel safe when we are disarmed, and we also do not feel it is your responsibility to determine who can and can't protect themselves.
The criminals certainly will not obey your signs, so would you consider removing them? Thanks for listening. Many other businesses do not post and in fact the Wisconsin law says you can't be held liable for incidents involving concealed carry permit holders if you do NOT post.
Please check the WI Dept. of Justice or Tavern League of Wisconsin websites for more information.
Ross Bielema (your name here)
If you do use a card, a letter or just your personal words to an owner or manager and have some success in getting a sign taken down, please e-mail me at Ross@wolfriverccw.com and let me know! I'd love to hear about it. As the years pass and more and more people get used to armed, safe citizens, the signs will come down! But only if we call them on it.
Here is another letter I just wrote to those businesses who post. Please feel free to use it and put your own name on it.
An open letter to businesses/employers who post “no guns” or “no weapons” signs:
As a business owner, you value certain American principles of capitalism, profits and the idea that in our great nation, you can start out with an idea and a building, work hard and make a living doing so. And you want to protect your investment from legal snarls, while certainly avoiding thefts and robberies.
Years ago, some restaurants would offer police officers free meals or free coffee in order to encourage them to frequent their businesses. Why? Because their presence was a deterrent to crime, and that few dollars of free food was a great investment in protection.
Today, most cops are not allowed to accept such free offers, but the presence of armed officers and citizens is equally a deterrent to crime. In fact, if you look up the effects of armed concealed carry holders on crime rates, you will see that criminals do fear armed citizens as much as, and even more than, armed citizens. Please read John Lott’s landmark book, “More Guns, Less Crime.” A firearm is used defensively about 2.5 million times per year in the United States, according to criminalist Dr. Gary Kleck, and in 97 percent of those cases, no shot is fired! The mere presence of a firearm persuades the criminal to give up or flee.
Citizens have as much right to carry a handgun for personal protection of themselves and their families as your business has a right to make a profit from customers. If you don’t make a profit, you eventually fold and your employees lose their jobs. If citizens don’t carry concealed handguns, some of them eventually are shot, raped, robbed and murdered by armed criminals. It is a fact of life and happens every single day.
Your “no weapons” signs tell me—your honest customer—that you don’t trust me. Because I choose to defend myself, silently and without visible fanfare, you want to punish me. You make me unwelcome in your business. You tell me that I do not have a right to defend myself and my family at all times, because I must suspend my right in your business.
Can you please tell me why? Is it because you think my gun is a threat? No, my gun is not a threat, because I have trained to use it, just as a police officer has trained to use his. I have paid money to get my concealed carry permit. The state has run a records check on me. I have been approved by the state to carry a gun. I have invested time, effort and money to be safe and responsible. I love my family enough to be prepared to defend them, and I’m there to defend innocent bystanders from criminals, too. But your signs will have no effect on criminals. By definition, criminals don’t obey laws, and if you think they will obey your signs, you are only kidding yourself. Your signs make criminals laugh. Such signs make their job much easier, because they know they will meet no law-abiding armed citizens in such places.
I like your products and services. I ate or shopped here before I had the right to carry a handgun, and still like your food, clothing and other products and services. But now you make me choose. Should I shop where I’m really not wanted, or should I shop elsewhere? Would you consider posting a sign that says “No minorities” or “No disabled people”? No, you wouldn’t. But because I choose to carry a handgun, you want me to leave.
I want to stay, but now I have to return my gun to my car, where I must lock it up and hope it isn’t stolen. This gun could save my life, your life or the life of a customer, but it does no good in my car.
Now that you have disarmed me with your sign, are you ready to protect me? I hope so, because in order for me to obey the letter of the law, I have to stow my gun elsewhere. And this is where your liability comes in. If something happens to me or my family while I’m in your business, I have no choice but to sue you.
This is why the Wisconsin Tavern League advises its members to avoid posting such signs. Please go to their website and look it up. This is also why Wisconsin wrote this into the concealed carry law. Please read this carefully:
The only liability protection provided by Wisconsin statute is for the following actors:
a concealed weapon is immune from any liability arising from that decision.
from liability from any act or omission related to the course if the course is one
of the courses listed in statute.
Wis. Stat. § 895.62 also affects liability in certain situations, and is shown in
Appendix E. (page 36 of the WI Dept. of Justice concealed carry student guide).
So those who don’t post a sign can’t be held liable, but those who do post a sign certainly increase their liability of being sued, and certainly make it much harder for honest citizens to defend themselves.
Some gun owners and concealed carry permit holders will choose to simply avoid your business. A website dedicated to showing citizens who doesn’t permit guns inside is flourishing. Pennsylvania gun owners came up with this simple sign:
I have not yet reached the point where I will simply take my business elsewhere, because I like your products and services, and want to keep shopping here. I also think you are a reasonable business owner who values American freedoms above all else, and can appreciate the right to defend one’s own self and his or her family—a freedom that pre-dates the U.S. constitution.
Would you please consider taking your “no weapons” sign down? All we ask is that you apply common sense to this situation. Do you believe your sign will stop criminals from carrying weapons? Do you think increasing your civil liability is worth keeping legally owned guns out of the hands of your paying customers while they shop in your store?
Thanks for your kind consideration. I appreciate your willingness to listen to reason and common sense. Your armed customers await your thoughtful decision, which we trust will be based on facts and not emotions.
Owner and Chief Instructor
Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC
New London, WI