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Gun laws hit venues where it hurts: their pockets

With some US music venues losing upwards of $50,000 a year as a result of 'open carry', guns and gigs prove a confusing mix for venue managers

By Jon Chapple on 10 Aug 2016

Openly carried gun, Richmond, Virginia, Michael Tefft

An openly carried firearm in Richmond, Virginia

image © Michael Tefft

American venue managers are feeling the effects of the US’s liberal gun laws, with half of those living in ‘open-carry’ states – the 45 that allow the public carrying of a firearm in plain sight – revealing that they’ve had to take preventative measures to counteract the threat of gun violence.

Fifty per cent of venues surveyed by the 2016 Firearms in the Venue Study, commissioned by the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) and presented at its recent VenueConnect conference in Minneapolis, said they needed to take “some action” in response to their state or locality’s open-carry laws, with 33% citing a need for increased security – often at a significant cost to themselves.

Of the venues that have incurred additional costs as a result of open carry, 60% said it was less than US$10,000, 20% $10,000–$50,000 and 20% more than $50,000. All states allow businesses to ban open carry on private property, but events held in government-owned parks, streets, or plazas have limited options because most states prevent the sites from imposing gun control measures inconsistent with state law.

The decades-old debate over gun control in the US crossed over into the live entertainment world in June following two fatal shooting incidents in Orlando. Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton led a chorus of politicians and music industry figures in calling for stricter gun laws after singer Christina Grimmie was gunned down at a signing at The Plaza Live theatre (1,355-cap.), then, two days later, 49 people were massacred in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Ironically, Florida – along with California, Illinois, New York and South Carolina, along with Washington DC – is one of five states to prohibit open carry altogether.

Of the 960 venues surveyed, 61% said they would not allow guns at all if it were up to them

IAVM’s survey (conducted before the Orlando shootings, from 3 to 31 May) served to illustrate how unpopular open carry is amongst members. Of the 960 venues surveyed, 61% said they would not allow guns at all if it were up to them, although the association notes that “open-carry laws appear to be confusing to venue professionals”, with 13 venue managers giving three or more contradictory answers regarding open carry in their state.

It also highlighted widespread inconsistencies between state and local law in the application of open-carry laws to venues that serve alcohol.  At 79 venues where alcohol is served and state and/or local laws prohibit open carry, 41% are still compelled to allow it.

Texas legalised open carry on 1 January 2016, but South by Southwest – which has called the law “poor public policy” – exercised its right to opt out, prohibiting attendees from “carrying weapons of any kind, including concealed or displayed firearms”.

“We’re setting ourselves up for a disaster of catastrophic proportions”

Venues and live events in Tennessee, including the new Ascend Amphitheater and the Memphis in May festival, have done the same, although the decision has been challenged by the state’s leading legal authority, attorney-general Herbert Slatery. Slatery commented in July 2015 that Tom Lee Park, the location for Memphis in May, “retains its status as a public park” and that third-party operators “may not prohibit holders of valid handgun-carry permits from possessing handguns on the premises”, although the ban remains in place.

James Bolden, the former police director in Memphis, told Nashville Public Radio Slatery’s opinion is “alarming” and that should the right of venues to restrict firearms be overturned, “we’re setting ourselves up for a disaster of catastrophic proportions”.

Whatever the future holds for gun control in America – and with presidential candidate Donald Trump opining the Bataclan massacre could have been prevented “if people in that room had guns with the bullets flying in the opposite direction”, it’s anyone’s guess – for IAVM members, at least, it’s “perfectly clear that venue managers prefer to prohibit open carry in their buildings”.


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