Marty Hayes

by Marty Hayes, J.D.

Since the outstanding and heroic actions of Eli Dicken on July 19, 2022 in the Greenwood, Indiana mall where he single-handedly took down an active shooter, many members have called or written and asked us about the Network’s position on carrying a gun in a no-gun zone, as Mr. Dicken was doing when he stopped the active killer.

First off, it is illegal to help people to commit crimes. If not statutorily illegal, it is against public policy for an organization such as ours to say that we will help a person to commit a crime. That means we cannot state to our members and prospective members that the Network would supply financial assistance for committing the crime of being armed in a statutorily established no-gun zone. Some of the questions I’ve been asked, though, have gone beyond the recent example of a mall into questions about gun free zones like schools, where it is illegal to possess guns.

Not all no-gun zones are statutorily established. I understand the shopping mall where the July 19th incident occurred was only posted no guns allowed, and it was okay for the mall to deny access to patrons with guns. If a person carries into a non-permissive environment such as the mall, the worst crime that would be committed would be the crime of trespassing, and in each state, the definition of trespassing is different, so the individual must educate themselves as to the details of the statute defining trespassing.

Typically, the crime of trespass occurs when a person enters a property that is posted no trespassing AND (this is important) that communication must be known to the individual or be so obvious that the person should have known. In the case of carrying a firearm, it would mean you knew that you and your gun together were not wanted, and you either knew or should have known you were prohibited from entering with a weapon. The “should have known” part routinely means you had to walk past a conspicuous sign to enter the building. That’s usually a sign on the door, but I have also seen many places where the no gun sign was posted, but in a manner that one would need to be looking for it to notice it.

In other circumstances, there are states where the no guns signs are furnished by the state. That’s usually a fairly recent trend where the state legislature, in passing a concealed weapons permit scheme, included a provision allowing shop keepers to post their premises with no gun signs citing the statute number. Ignoring these signs typically results in criminal charges, and a conviction results in loss of carrying privileges.

Now that we have a general understanding of the issue, where does the Network stand? First off, if the issue was purely a violation of a no gun statute, absent any self-defense components, we would not assist in a defense to that charge. But if you were carrying a gun in violation of a statute, and stepped in to stop an active shooter, how would the Network respond? Likely there would be no request for assistance, because the person intervening and stopping the active shooter would not be arrested or charged because they would correctly be seen as a hero, and it is not good optics for an elected prosecutor to go after a local hero. 

But what if the local hero is prosecuted for the firearms possession? Each situation is unique, and so we would carefully scrutinize each detail and all of the facts of the case to make sure a criminal offense was, in fact, committed; that the signage was conspicuous and you intentionally violated the statute.

In all cases such as this, an individual assessment of the facts is going to need to be made before a decision would be forthcoming. The bottom line is don’t go to places where you and your gun are not wanted.

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.