Legislature Should Not Meddle with Liability for “Fake Gun Free Zones”

I think it was a moral crime for Cinemark to create a “fake gun free zone” at its Aurora theater, prohibiting law-abiding patrons from carrying defensive guns while doing nothing to stop armed aggressors. But not everything that is morally wrong should be legally prohibited or even legally disfavored.

Still, a Colorado bill sponsored by Kent Lambert—S. B. 13-062—is not nearly as bad as the Denver Post led me to believe. The Post wrongly claims the bill “would require business owners to allow concealed-carry permit holders to pack heat or else provide one security officer for every 50 customers and face increased liability.”

That newspaper description is not quite right (or at least it’s ambiguous). The bill would render a private business “liable for damages in any civil action” if the business forbids lawful concealed carry while failing to provide at least one armed security officer per 50 people present.

Still, the bill is pretty bad, and its effect would be to strong-arm businesses into allowing concealed carry.

Colorado is a “shall issue” concealed-carry state, meaning that any non-probited person can apply for a permit and be assured of receiving one. However, Colorado law has always recognized the right of business owners to set their own policy.

The legal rules of liability have long been established, and the Colorado legislature has no legitimate business expanding liability in this case.

In the Aurora case, the business clearly posted that it prohibited the lawful carry of firearms. Any patron could plainly see that the theater offered no security and thereby created a “fake gun free zone.” But they chose to go there anyway. This was a matter of free and voluntary association.

If Republicans start the game of expanding liability for its pet causes, the Democrats will no doubt follow suit. Remember, the Democrats have the trial lawyers on their team (for the most part). I’m sure they could think up reams of statutes expanding liability for law-abiding gun owners, gun stores, tobacco stores, liquor stores, and so on. The list is potentially endless.

Vincent Carroll offers some good reasons why Cinemark should not be held liable for its failure to provide security. To me the most compelling reason is that the risk of an event like that is extraordinarily low. We cannot justly hold someone liable for an event that they could not reasonably have predicted.

That said, I think Cinemark richly deserves public condemnation for creating a “fake gun free zone,” thereby helping to provide crowds of defenseless victims for a mass murderer.

Image: Ari Armstrong’s Creative Commons Photos at Picasa