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6/29/2003

Coming to grips with new gun laws

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

DENVER — Having recently finished its move into new offices in the Wells Fargo Center — the cash register building — downtown, the law firm of Faegre & Benson is finding itself coming to grips with another issue: how to deal with Colorado’s new “conceal and carry” law, which took effect last month.

Senate Bill 24, signed into law by Gov. Bill Owens in March, requires local sheriffs to issue a permit to carry a concealed handgun, as long as the applicant meets the qualifying criteria. A conceal-and-carry law existed previously, but discretion on whether to issue someone a permit was left up to each county sheriff.

“The new law takes away that discretion,” said Charles Weese, a partner in Faegre & Benson’s labor and employment group. He said businesses need to be aware of how the new law could affect “employees, customers, vendors and visitors to your business.”

Weese said that during the first month of the new law, 47 applications to carry a concealed handgun were submitted for processing in Boulder County, more than 200 in Denver County and more than 600 in Jefferson County.

Faegre & Benson was the sponsor of a seminar in its new offices last week that was intended to shed light on issues that employers face under the new law.

“What I find most troubling are the gaps in the law,” Weese said, explaining that a similar law passed this year in Minnesota is very specific in its language. “Our law gives no guidance on what you can do to limit guns in the workplace.”

Some businesses — like many hospitals and Coors Field, for example — already deal with the issue, having had no-weapons policies in place before the new law. But for most businesses, the issue probably hasn’t come up until now.

Weese said the law does not limit the existing rights of private employers to prohibit guns in the workplace. The problem, he said, is that the new law gives no guidance to employers at all.

Unlike language in the Minnesota law, “the (Colorado) statute does not say what existing rights of private employers or private business entities are,” said Heather Carson of Faegre & Benson’s business litigation arm.

Her firm, she said, is writing its handgun policy into the workplace-violence section of its employee regulations.

“If you didn’t have one before, this is a good time to put a workplace-violence policy in place,” Carson said.

The second-leading cause of death in the workplace is homicide — and for women it’s the leading cause, said Carson, adding that while it is unclear what effect, if any, the new law will have on those statistics, “certainly, the availability of a handgun can make a tense situation a little more dangerous.”

Carson said Faegre & Benson’s policies already prohibited employees from carrying handguns at work. Being a law firm, however, means that customers, delivery people and vendors are coming in and out of its offices all day long.

“If someone refuses to comply with our policy, then we don’t have to let them patronize Faegre & Benson,” said Carson.

The first thing the firm is doing is posting signs warning that concealed handguns are not permitted on company premises, she said. Secondly, people who do walk in with concealed handguns will be asked to check them into a lockbox at the front desk and can pick them up when they leave. Thirdly, Carson said a “panic button” will be installed at the front desk, with direct links to building security and possibly 911.

“The state doesn’t say what you can do, but this is the policy that we’re going to use,” Carson said, adding that “it’s important to address both your employment policies and your patronage policies.”

Richard Caschette, a special counsel to Faegre & Benson’s litigation group and a former first assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Colorado, advised that to protect itself from litigation, an employer needs to understand the new law and how it applies to its business, then decide on a policy and summarize it in writing.

“How do you notify your employees or customers? That’s a sticky issue,” Caschette said. “You can do that, I believe, by posting a sign or putting it in the handbook.

“The biggest problem you’re going to face as private employers and private landowners is: How are you going to enforce your policy?”

Marie Williams, another participant in the workshop, suggested employers contact either their insurance brokers or their attorneys with questions regarding the new law and how to protect themselves from liability.

“You’re going to be facing the same kinds of issues you were before if somebody was unlawfully carrying a gun,” Williams said.

However, she said, some companies’ insurance — particularly workers’ compensation and auto insurance — could be affected. If you’re unsure, now is the time to ask.

“Make sure there’s nothing about the way you do your business (that changes) because of this new law,” Williams said. “If you’re asking your receptionist to ask people if they’re carrying, are you increasing the risk to that employee?”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.