Guns and Meetings: What You Need to Know Now

Hands up! How many are packin’ today? In today’s America, some of you undoubtedly are (and feel strongly it’s your right to do so). The rest of you are sharing a shudder. Without taking sides on this hotly debated subject, the reality is that you can’t plan your next meeting without addressing the question of guns.

In the state where you are meeting, can firearms be carried—openly or concealed? What about at specific venues, especially when alcohol is served or a famous person is a keynoter? As an event organizer, what is your liability? What are the insurance issues? The security issues? And what about attendees who aren’t armed—how do you reassure them they are safe?

In short, the questions come as fast and furious as lead slugs from an assault weapon.

The starting point is knowing specific gun laws, and for that there’s a handy state-by-state interactive map developed by Meeting Professionals International (MPI). In Ohio, for example, it shows that concealed handguns can be carried with a permit, but that handguns and long guns can be carried openly. All firearms are prohibited on college campuses, in rooms or arenas licensed to serve alcohol and at businesses that post appropriate signage banning weapons.

On the liability question, it comes down to identifying the organizer’s “duty of care” regarding firearms at the event, according to Tyra Hilliard, a certified meeting planner who is also a lawyer. “Know the law, ask the questions,” she says. “Even if the facility is legally required to allow firearms, can the group forbid them in their meeting space?”  Hire extra security if the need calls for it.”

Insurance costs may indeed go higher if firearms are allowed, so check with your carrier.

Finally, whether you require guns to be checked at the door to your event or not, don’t enter without your core values. Apply to the event and event venue(s) the same rules for gun possession found at your organization’s headquarters, recommends Andy Johnston, president of the Atlanta-based Idea Group. “It’s about matching your culture,” Johnston says.