There are some social issues in our country that are just downright contentious and even after years of public debate, sides seem as polarized as ever. Most don't impact the small business owner, but gun law is an issue that some owners need to consider.
State and local gun laws are changing rapidly, and in many states it is fairly easy to obtain a concealed carry permit and when this is so, usually businesses have the option to prohibit guns in their establishments. Generally, this requires posting a sign at entrances.
An informal survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal found that while larger chain restaurants tend to prohibit guns, there's a trend among smaller restaurants to allow guns and even encourage them. You'll find promotions like "Second Amendment Wednesday" and signs welcoming gun owners at restaurants in states with more liberal concealed carry permit laws. Some restaurants offer discounts to gun toters.
Three points to consider
There are three issues to consider when formulating your own policy. First, make sure you understand state and local laws in your area. Second, you need to consider the attitude of your customers. Third, you should consider the safety of your customers. (Listing this third does not imply it is any less important; however, there are some legal issues that may not be fully settled right now that you need to think about.)
Getting on the right side of your local laws should not be a problem, whether you want to prohibit, encourage or just take a neutral attitude about the legal possession of guns at your business.
Regarding the attitude of your customers, I need to say that I haven't seen any boycotts organized by gun control groups against businesses that allow guns. However, I have seen some local businesses get into hot water with pro-gun patrons when they have banned guns. While the exposure may not be great, making a sudden move to ban guns could cause a local controversy.
The owner of T-Bonz steakhouse in Augusta, Georgia got into trouble with a gun ban and had to walk it back.
"I come up and see a sign on your door that says you don't allow weapons, I'm going to honor your sign, but then I'm also not going to come into your establishment," is how local resident Jennifer Seymour put it. After a social media dust up, T-Bonz overturned its own ban.
Preventing self defense
The safety issue is just beginning to get some attention. Here's the thinking on one side of the coin: If a state allows its residents to carry concealed weapons for their own protection, and your business prohibits them, are you then at risk if someone who would have been armed is attacked at your business?
Businesses must take measures to help assure customer safety. That's why we put out orange safety cones when the floor is wet. After a shooting outside of a Jackson, Mississippi convenience store that prohibits guns, David Butts, an attorney from Tupelo, said this:
"...what about the situation where a customer, legally armed, either openly or with a concealed carry permit, disarms themselves to do business in the 'no firearms' business and is injured or killed by some gun-wielding thug intent on committing a crime? What does the owner’s duty of 'reasonable care' to protect the customer mean in those circumstances?"
Local legal advice and networking with businesses similar to yours should help you navigate this issue. Be sure to do your homework.