Bill to hold businesses liable if guns prohibited

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

Dec. 30, 2016 at 9:51 p.m.
Updated Dec. 31, 2016 at midnight

The 85th Texas Legislature will consider a bill that would encourage business owners to allow licensed handgun holders to bring their firearms into businesses.

If passed, HB 447, filed by state Rep. Cecil Bell, would hold a business owner liable for damages that could have been prevented by a licensed carrier if the owner prohibits handguns in their business. Business owners that allow licensed carriers to bring their firearms into their business would not be held liable for any damages.

"Some business owners may feel they are being forced to allow handguns in their business," said Nazif Durmaz, University of Houston-Victoria economics assistant professor. "The wording is basically saying you need to allow or there will be an outcome."

Veterinarian Travis Schaar, who owns Pet Resort on Main and Main Street Animal Hospital in Victoria, allows licensed carriers to bring handguns in to his businesses but said the government should have no say on whether a business allows them or not. This bill pressures business owners into allowing them.

"I feel like as a private business owner in the U.S., we have the ultimate right to decide if we want to give business to those that carry firearms or don't," he said. "I don't think the government should be able to say we should become liable for an incident like that."

If a business owner allows or doesn't allow a licensed carrier to bring a handgun into their business, it doesn't make a big difference regarding safety, Schaar said.

"By allowing them to come in, it's not going to make the world that much safer," Schaar said. "It might make a difference if the individual that has the weapon had some military or police affiliation."

If this bill passes, business owners that allow and don't allow firearms into their business should make sure their insurance covers any damages that could be prevented by a licensed gun holder, Durmaz said. The outcome of the law is unknown, and business owners should be prepared, he said.

"Now you're liable," he said. "You should have an insurance to cover that. If you do not want to be liable, you still don't know what would happen. Whenever a law passes, people are going to react. Most of the time, we're unaware of these kinds of consequences."

Even if business owners allow licensed carriers to bring handguns into their business, they could be held liable for damages in some way because the bill is not specific on what the owner would be held liable for, Durmaz said.

"The bill says the owner is not liable, but what if the damage falls under some different topic under another law?" Durmaz said. "The bill says that they're not liable, but someone could find a loophole that makes them liable."

Steve Scurlock, Independent Bankers Association of Texas executive vice president, said IBAT officials have not yet taken a position on the bill because it's early in the legislative process. Scurlock also doesn't know yet how this bill would affect banks if passed. IBAT represents community banks and advocates for their interests at the state capitol.

IBAT represents a mix of banks that allow and prohibit licensed carries to bring handguns in, Scurlock said, and he would like that decision to remain up to bank officials.

"Our priority is to try to make sure that the banks get to decide how they want to address this," he said.

After IBAT takes a position on the bill, it will make it known through the media and encourage bank officials to contact their state representatives.

Scurlock believes if the bill is passed, it would increase insurance costs, he said.

"This, I think, takes some of the discretion away from a business' ability about how they want to proceed with this issue," he said.



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