Akron newsies at it again: Why can't they save it for the editorial page?

From the headline to the last line, there is no doubt that the Akron Beacon-Journal has used more "news" space to foster their anti-gun editorial opinion. Surely journalists at this newspaper were taught to get quotes from BOTH sides in preparing a story, or to make sure the "expert" doesn't have a strong bias. This writer did neither.

Please note that this news writer was unable to find a single businesses (aside from an exempt day-care) willing to have their name put in this story, and that even the paper admits many are reluctant to put up discriminatory signs.

Stop guns with signs

Businesses wrestle with concealed weapon law

by Erika D. Smith
March 29, 2004
Akron Beacon Journal

APRIL 8 is a high noon of sorts for Akron-area businesses.

That's the first day Ohioans can apply to carry a concealed weapon, although it will take another 45 days for anyone to get a license to pack heat legally.

In the meantime, business owners who want to keep guns out of their offices and shops should start thinking about posting signs. Under the state's new concealed carry law, that's the only way employers can prohibit them.

"Every client that I've spoken to has asked, 'How do I keep guns off my property?' '' said Jackie Ford, an attorney with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP in Columbus. "Have a policy in place and communicate that policy to your employees.''

Without a sign banning weapons at every entrance, the law allows anyone with a concealed-carry license to bring a gun into almost any type of workplace. That includes employees, managers, clients, cleaning crews, visitors -- anyone. And they don't have to tell you.

However, there are some places where Ohioans can't carry a gun, including religious buildings, airports, airplanes, bars, educational facilities and government-owned buildings.

"I find it funny that the legislature passed this bill and immediately exempted itself,'' said Ford, whose firm recently opened an office in Akron and operates in several of the 40-some states with concealed-carry laws.

Kids-Play Inc. in downtown Akron has always banned weapons on its premises for the safety of the children it cares for.

But three or four months ago, the company decided to put up a sign banning weapons "just to remind people,'' said Executive Director Julie Rand.

"Probably with the law taking effect, we would have done it anyway,'' she said.

In fact, the law requires them to.

All places that are exempt from the concealed-carry law must put up signs with government-approved language.

In Akron, the nonprofit Downtown Akron Partnership is distributing free, 5-by-9-inch stickers with language OK'd by the city. Government-owned buildings will receive metal or plastic signs, although they are still being printed.

"Every city building and every entrance will have one,'' said Mark Williamson, a spokesman for the mayor's office. "Metal signs would go up at Canal Park, for example.''

Businesses outside of downtown will have to eat the cost of buying no-gun signs. Williamson isn't even sure how much the postings will cost the city.

"We're printing up a couple hundred signs -- plastic signs like the Easter decorations you put on your house,'' he said. "There won't be nearly as many metal signs.''

Unlike government buildings, though, regular businesses don't have to use specific language on their signs. At the very least, the signs must be conspicuous and inform people that firearms are prohibited. Some are just going with an anti-gun symbol.

Ohio legislators left it up to employers to decide, letting them choose the best way to reflect the tone of their business.

"The idea of putting up a sign of a gun with a big red slash through it isn't exactly appealing to some,'' Ford said.

No matter what type of sign you choose, the most important thing is to post them everywhere the public has access.

If a gun-carrying customer enters a store that has a sign on the front door, but not the back door, he could be charged with a misdemeanor. But he could just as easily beat the charge by arguing he didn't know about the ban because he came in through the back door, where a sign wasn't visible.

Using the same logic, Ford said businesses should put up signs outside, too. That way, an argument over late fees inside a video store won't end with a shootout in the parking lot.

Ohioans are allowed to keep guns in their cars on property where they're permitted. But any weapon must be holstered in plain view or locked in a glove compartment or transport box.

It's unclear how shopping centers will be affected, since the law says businesses have the right to ban guns, not owners. Often, the proprietor of a store is not the same as the owner of a shopping center.

"It's like anything else the first time you go through it. There's going to be hiccups,'' Williamson said.

With or without signs, though, employers have immunity from violent actions committed by someone who brings a concealed weapon onto their property. And shooting someone without justification is still a felony.

"What posting the sign gives you is: one, notifying employees and visitors that you don't want them to bring their guns onto the premises; and two, the opportunity for criminal penalties to be used to enforce that prohibition,'' Ford said. "Without a sign there's no criminal liability.''

Erika D. Smith can be reached at 330-996-3748 or at [email protected]

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