by Gila Hayes

Recently, a Network member called to ask about holding private business owners who declare their property off limits to guns liable for failing to protect customers, as advocated in a gun magazine he reads. Threatening to sue is a popular American tactic but I wonder if it is our most effective approach since it entails much outside our control. Is the threat a paper tiger? Just because we would like to mandate gun carry permissions at private businesses, does the legal remedy exist by which a judge would force a business owner or entity to meet our demands? If not, are we making empty threats?

While there is probably some truth to the axiom that in American anyone can sue anyone else for anything, it is a long and tortuous path between filing a lawsuit and receiving a judicial order for the business entity or owner to pay you damages if you get hurt by an attacker inside their place of business.

Do a web search on “lawsuit thrown out” or “lawsuit dismissed” to see how the courts keep from getting tied up with issues on which they cannot legitimately rule. How are you going to show that the business had a legal responsibility for your safety and is liable for the harm you suffered? It must be more that you BELIEVED they should be responsible because they said don’t come in here with your gun or your suit is likely to be dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

Without doubt, many of the cases thrown out are frivolous like the one just last May in which the Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP) sought judicial agreement that chimps are people deserving human rights. Now, having said that, more serious lawsuits get tossed out, too, including any number of sexual harassment complaints, immigration questions, end of life issues, red light camera intrusions and a lot more.

Besides, do we really want to encourage even more intrusive state and federal laws? Conservative activists raised a ruckus when bakeries in CO and OR were punished for refusing to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples. The litigants should just buy the cake somewhere else, many urged. Has that fight made any friends for the LGBT community? Would laws compelling an antigun business owner to take down his “No Guns” sign and allow you or me inside while armed work any better?

Does my right to armed self protection apply even if I intrude where I am not welcome? The “No Guns Allowed” signs that anti-gunners press on private businesses make it clear that either by ignorance or due to personal prejudice, the storeowner does not want armed citizens to come inside! The “No Guns” signs pop up like weeds in the wake of concealed carry legislation, and I doubt we have seen the end of posted private premises. We clearly are not changing the hearts and minds of our enemies on this issue.

But are more laws the solution? In 2013, a Missouri legislator introduced legislation that “Specifies that private businesses that post signage prohibiting weapons on the premises is liable for injury or damage to public invitees, business visitors, and employees as a result of the prohibition.” This pro-gun effort is nothing new, having been attempted as an amendment to Arizona law as far back as 2002, and similar legislation has been introduced elsewhere, too. The bills get hung up in committee, and that is as far as it usually goes.

How can we make a greater impact? Well-documented business boycotts, executed courteously but with clear communication, are hard to beat. Instead of threatening to sue if something horrible happens sometime out in the future, why not show the merchant an immediate loss—such as withholding our trade and commerce? In other words, “No Guns=No $”

A goodly number of pro-gun websites have posted artwork for nice-looking business cards printed with just that message (see one great example at so if the business owner won’t speak with you, you can leave the message that you can’t spend your hard-earned money with them and had to go spend your money elsewhere. Besides, do you really want to help an anti-gun business prosper so they can donate part of the money you paid them to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence? I don’t.

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