The New York Times yesterday posted a fascinating piece about the disconnect that exists in specific markets between retailers' desire to keep their customers safe - and feeling safe - and the realities of permissive gun laws that sometimes threaten shoppers' security.
The Times uses several incidents to illustrate "a uniquely American quandary: In states with permissive gun laws, the police and prosecutors have limited tools at their disposal when a heavily armed individual’s mere presence in a public space sows fear or even panic."
For example, there was a case where "Rico Marley was arrested as he emerged from the bathroom at a Publix supermarket in Atlanta. He was wearing body armor and carrying six loaded weapons — four handguns in his jacket pockets, and in a guitar bag, a semiautomatic rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun. Moments earlier, an Instacart delivery driver had alerted a store employee after seeing Mr. Marley in the bathroom, along with the AR-15-style rifle, which was propped against a wall."
According to the Times, "Prosecutors initially went all in on Mr. Marley’s case, charging him with 11 felonies: five counts of criminal attempt to commit a felony and six counts of possession of a weapon 'during commission of or attempt to commit certain felonies.' An arresting officer said in an affidavit that when Mr. Marley had put on his antiballistic armor in the Publix bathroom and placed the handguns, with rounds in the chambers, into his pockets, he had taken a 'substantial step of the crime of aggravated assault,' a felony." However, "court records show that the charges were dismissed in February. Mr. Marley was released from jail after 10 months, only to be rebooked in May, this time after being indicted by a grand jury on 10 lesser counts of reckless conduct, a misdemeanor. The indictment says that Mr. Marley was 'loading and displaying' his AR-15 in the restroom and that he left it unattended.
Or, there was the case in which "a man named Guido Herrera was discovered at the Galleria mall in Houston, a few yards from a youth dance competition, wearing a spiked leather mask and carrying a Bible and an AR-15-style rifle. An off-duty police officer working as a security guard was alerted to his presence and tackled him. Mr. Herrera was found to have more than 120 rounds of ammunition with him, as well as a semiautomatic handgun holstered in his waistband.
"He was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor that under Texas law includes knowingly displaying a firearm in public 'in a manner calculated to alarm.' A jury found him guilty, and he was given a six-month jail sentence."
The Times writes that "the question of how to handle such situations has been raised most often in recent years in the context of political protests, where the open display of weapons has led to concerns about intimidation, the squelching of free speech or worse. But it may become a more frequent subject of debate in the wake of a landmark Supreme Court decision in June, which expanded Americans’ right to arm themselves in public while limiting states’ ability to set their own regulations … Events like the one involving Mr. Marley, while difficult to quantify, are extreme examples of a problem already bedeviling the police and prosecutors, sometimes from the moment an armed person is spotted in public. All but three states allow for the open carry of handguns, long guns or both, and in many there is little the police can do.
"Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a bipartisan law enforcement policy group, said police officers sometimes had mere seconds to determine whether a person with a gun 'either legally has the right or he’s a madman' — or both."
- KC's View:
If retailers are not thinking about how they will and should deal with issues like these, they should be - it seems to me that while these may be seen at the moment as "extreme examples," our recent history is that extreme events appear to be occurring with greater frequency. Retailers simply have to be thinking about not just how to create safe environments, but the perception of safe environments. And when their desire to achieve these goals run headlong into the misguided actions of some people, and a legal system that is ill-equipped to cope with such people, it creates - at least to my mind - a fragile ecosystem.
Retailers need to prioritize their customers' safety, but I also recognize that taking a position - any position - has the potential of creating ill will in some segments of their communities.
I cannot even imagine how I would feel as a customer if I walked into a store's rest room and found an individual armed to the teeth. Quite frankly, I wouldn't give a damn about open carry laws - I'd call the cops as fast as possible, and I would be wholly dissatisfied with a system that could not lock these people up. There have been too many shootings, too many deaths, too many people who thought they were in safe places only to discover that fewer and fewer places actually are safe.