"He's got a gun. What should I do?"
As you may have heard, Governor Walker, unlike Governor Doyle, has recently signed legislation that would allow individuals to carry concealed weapons in a variety of locations. This has been a hotly debated topic for a long period of time, and even though it seems fairly simple, it's a complicated piece of legislation. Several issues must be discussed, and while I won't go into great detail in this article, I will address the following two questions: "What is a dangerous weapon?" and "What should a business owner do?" In addition, there are also elaborate procedures for individuals who wish to take advantage of this legislation and obtain a license to secure a dangerous weapon. This article will not address the specific procedures, as they are fairly self-explanatory under §175.60 Wis. Stats. A weapon is broadly defined to include a handgun, an electronic weapon (which we commonly refer to as tasers) or a knife or a switchblade. The procedure is spelled out in great detail regarding the courses the individual must take, the license the individual must obtain, and where the courses and licenses can be obtained.
The purpose of this article is to alert businesses as to what procedures should be taken when a policy decision is made not to allow customers into establishments while carrying a weapon or, conversely, have made a decision to allow it to occur. It's hard to look into a crystal ball to determine what will occur in the future within the court system, but it it's fairly clear under §175.60(15m) Wis. Stats. as to the restrictions placed on an employer concerning what may or may not be done. Most importantly, §175.60(21) Wis. Stats. defines the immunity that could attach, should anything happen as a result of an individual carrying a weapon into an establishment.
An employer may prohibit an employee from carrying a firearm, or a particular type of concealed weapon, during the course of that individual's employment. However, an employer may not prohibit the individual from carrying or stowing a concealed weapon or ammunition in the person's own motor vehicle, regardless of whether the motor vehicle is used in the course of employment or whether the vehicle is driven or parked on the property used by the employer. Business owners must determine whether they will simply do nothing and allow these individuals to carry concealed or nonconcealed weapons on their premises.
The issue for you, as our client, is liability. If you do not prohibit an individual from carrying a concealed weapon onto the property that you own or occupy, you're statutorily immune from liability arising from that decision. In addition, an employer that does not prohibit its employees from carrying a concealed weapon during any part of their employment is also immune from any liability arising from that decision. If, however, the employer decides to prohibit individuals (including its employees) from carrying a concealed weapon on their premises, certain steps must be taken.
It is illegal for an individual to carry a firearm or to enter or remain at any residence the individual does not own or occupy after the owner or occupant of the residence has notified the individual not to enter or remain in the residence while carrying a firearm. In addition, it is prohibited for an individual to carry a firearm, and to enter or remain in a common area in a building, or on the grounds of the building of a residence, that is not a single family residence if (1) the person does not own the residence, (2) does not occupy a part of the residence and (3) if the owner of the residence has notified the person not to enter/remain in the common area or grounds while a carrying a firearm. Similarly, it is also prohibited for an individual to carry a firearm, or enter/remain in any part of a nonresidential area or grounds of a nonresidential building or land that a person does not own or occupy, after the owner of the building, grounds or land (if that part has not been leased to another person or occupant) has notified that person not to remain on that part of the building, grounds or land while carrying a firearm or type of firearm. The same applies to carrying a firearm at a special event, if the individual has been notified not to enter or remain at the special event. Furthermore, it is prohibited for a person to enter/remain in any privately or publicly owned building, or on the grounds of a university or college, if the university has notified the person not to enter or remain in the building while carrying a firearm.
A person is considered to have received notice from the owner or occupant if they are personally notified either orally, in writing, or if the land is posted. Land is considered to be posted if a sign of at least eleven (11) inches squared is placed in at least two (2) conspicuous places for every forty (40) acres to be protected. The sign must provide an appropriate notice and the name of the person giving said notice must be followed by either the word "Owner" (if the person giving the notice is the holder of legal title to the land) or the word "Occupant" (if the person giving the notice is not the holder of legal title but is the lawful occupant of the land.) An owner of a residence that is not a single-family residence must notify an individual not to enter/remain in that part of the building by posting a sign that is located in a prominent place near all the entrances of the part of the building, and the sign is at least five by seven (5x7) inches or eleven (11) inches square. The same applies to the owner or occupant of the grounds of a nonresidential building or of land, if you have notified the individual not to enter and have posted a sign that is located in a prominent place of all public access points to the public grounds or land to which the restriction applies. There are many additional changes and creations of statutes in this particular area as it relates to possession of a firearm or a dangerous weapon. Once again, a dangerous weapon includes a firearm, but also can include a wide variety of other items.
The issue for a business owner is: Do you post the signs and lose the immunity that is specifically provided for under Wisconsin law in §175.60(21) Wis. Stats., or do nothing and take advantage of that immunity? The issue boils down to a business decision as to whether prohibiting individuals from carrying concealed weapons on your premises will create a fear among your current customers and you will lose customers, or if simply doing nothing and allowing these individuals to carry concealed weapons will not cause a loss in business. This is something you need to discuss with your insurance company to ensure you have adequate coverage and take advantage of Wisconsin law.
Bucher Law Group, LLC, is ready, willing, and capable to assist you in making these decisions and ensuring your business is adequately protected against any liability that may occur when an individual carries a concealed weapon onto your premises. Every business is different, and it is impossible for this firm to give general advice as to what action to take. However, we encourage you to be aware of the liability issues that may arise, the immunity that is available, and the proactive steps to take if, in fact, you decide to prohibit individuals from entering or remaining on your premises with a concealed dangerous weapon. As always, Bucher Law Group, LLC, is available for consultation, and we are happy to assist you in dealing with this relatively new piece of legislation.