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Business Owners Get Concealed Carry Primer

On Nov. 1, Wisconsin became the 49th state to enact a concealed carry law. While some may consider it late in coming and others call it unwelcome, the law gives local business owners cause for concern.

At a networking event for Door County’s Buy Local Initiative held at Centerpointe Marina in Sturgeon Bay Nov. 1, about 50 business owners listened to a presentation from Pinkert Law Firm on how the new law will impact them.

Attorney Jon Pinkert said anyone carrying a concealed weapon must be licensed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ). Carrying a concealed weapon without a license is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $10,000 fine, imprisonment for up to nine months or both. Law enforcement agencies will have access to a DOJ database of all license holders.

Once a person undergoes a background check and is granted a license, he or she can legally carry a handgun, Billy club, electric device or knife except for a switchblade, according to the law. License holders must have their license with them at all times when carrying a weapon.

The law doesn’t contain language regarding pepper spray, but Pinkert said since courts haven’t had a chance to interpret the law, the language would most likely be made clearer in the future.

License holders will face some restrictions from businesses and potentially from their employers.

Employers are allowed to prohibit concealed carry in the workplace as a condition of employment. Should an employer deny concealed carry in the workplace, it applies only to the workplace and company owned vehicles. Employees could keep a weapon in their privately owned vehicles in the parking lot of the workplace, Pinkert said.

Other places where concealed carry cannot be restricted include properties rented to third parties; special events, unless there are designated entrances and exits that can be locked; and state grounds and public spaces. Concealed carry can be prohibited in government buildings, just not the grounds surrounding them. The tenants of all rented spaces, whether commercial or residential, determine whether or not to allow concealed carry – the landlord does not.

Concealed weapons are universally banned at post offices, courthouses, sheriff’s departments, police stations, prisons, jails, correctional facilities, any point beyond security at an airport, schools, federal buildings and federal parks.

The Door County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Sept. 29 banning concealed weapons in all county-owned building and prohibiting employees from carrying concealed weapons during working hours.

To carry a concealed firearm in a tavern, Hobart said the licensee must be sober.

“If a person is carrying under the influence, whether or not they have a concealed carry license, that person is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor,” Hobart said. The violation carries a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment of up to nine months or both.

If a business owner decides to prohibit customers from concealed carry, a 5×7 inch sign must be posted at all entrances where customers can clearly see it. The sign keeps patrons from bringing a concealed firearm into an establishment, not another type of weapon, Pinkert said.

Businesses that allow concealed carry are free from liability if an incident occurs on the premises. But Pinkert said the law doesn’t explicitly protect business owners from liability if they posted signs prohibiting concealed weapons in their establishment. He said this was a “quirk” in the law that courts would have to deal with down the road.

“It seems backward to me…It’s hard to believe that the courts are going to find that prohibiting firearms somehow creates liability,” Pinkert said.

If someone is found carrying in a prohibited area with a license, the violator faces a penalty of up to $1,000 for the non-criminal Class B forfeiture violation.

The law’s passage also impacts how weapons are transported or the “open carry” law, Hobart said. With a concealed carry license, people can transport loaded guns (except long guns such as shotguns and rifles) in a vehicle without the guns being in a case. License holders can also carry in state parks.

City of Sturgeon Bay District 9 Supervisor Richard Haines attended the information session and said he believed that most business owners would not deny concealed carry.

Bob Desh, executive director of the Door County Maritime Museum, said he does not know whether the museum will prohibit concealed firearms until the next board of directors meeting.

As a former member of the United States Coast Guard, Desh remembers getting firearm training each year, including target shooting and judgmental shooting, where a person has to decide when to shoot a possible target.

Knowing how difficult it can be to determine whether someone is planning to use a concealed weapon, Desh said he would recommend the board prohibit concealed firearms in the museum.

Sheriff Terry Vogel said the law would not change how officers do their jobs. Officers handle each situation with caution as it is.

“We’re trained to be wary of everyone we stop, so it shouldn’t make too much of a difference,” he said.

Whatever business owners and employers decide about concealed carry, Pinkert said there are a few things they should do to protect themselves.

First, call the insurance company to see what their view is. It may be best to go with what they advise, Pinkert said, since they would be paying for it.

Second, Pinkert recommended business owners update employee manuals if they decide not to restrict their employees from carrying concealed weapons at work. He said allowing concealed weapons, but having the opposite recorded in an employee manual is a place where they could run into legal trouble.

And last, remember that as a business owner, you have the right to ask if someone is carrying a concealed firearm and if they are doing so in a business prohibiting concealed carry, you have the right to ask them to leave.