Several chain stores and the Mormon church have recently taken measures to restrict guns from being brought onto their premises as mass shootings increasingly become the new normal across the United States.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently banned non-law enforcement individuals from bringing guns onto its properties. Some retail and grocery store chains, including Albertsons Companies Inc., are now asking customers to not openly carry guns within their establishments.
The stores are suggesting, rather than demanding, customers refrain from open carrying firearms while on store premises and they’re not pushing any restrictions on concealed carry.
Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said churches and businesses are completely within their rights to go as far as not allowing firearms on their premises, though carrying guns — open or concealed — is legal in most public places in Idaho.
“This is still the United States. It’s your private property. If you don’t want people to come in armed, you have the right to do that,” Nielsen said about the gun restrictions being pushed by the stores and LDS church. “If I owned the store — and even though it’s open to the public — and if I didn’t want people in there with open carry, I think I would be able to have the right to say ‘No.’”
Greg Pruett, the president of the pro-gun Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, agreed it is within the right of a property owner to make recommendations against open carry. But Pruett said he would be within his rights to voice his opposition to such a move.
“I don’t believe and our organization does not believe that they’re going to have any impact on stopping crime,” Pruett said about businesses that don’t want people to openly carry guns on their premises. “Certainly criminals are going to ignore the law as they always do. Whether (the stores) intend to enforce these prohibitions remains to be seen.”
While understanding the benefits of openly carrying a firearm, Pruett said he mostly conceal carries.
“If I’m openly carrying at an event where there’s a ton of people, then I tend to be a little bit more cautious about somebody walking by and knowing that I have it because it’s openly there (and) potentially taking that gun from me at those type of events,” Pruett said.
Pruett said one of the benefits of openly carrying a gun is that it can be a deterrent to crime.
Moreover, Pruett said the vast majority of people who open carry do so safely.
State Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, said it is a good thing that Idaho is one of the strongest states in the country in terms of supporting Second Amendment rights. But he is admittedly uncomfortable when he sees someone open carry in a place like a restaurant. Nye said such incidents put “you on guard.”
Nielsen said if he sees someone open carrying a gun, he will make note of it in his mind as a law enforcement officer, but that’s as far as he will go.
“If somebody was (openly) carrying a gun, no matter what the event is, obviously I’m going to be aware of it,” Nielsen said. “As far as am I going to send people to watch them or if I’m going to take names down or stuff like that? No. There’s a whole lot more other warning signs that I would be involved with or concerned about than just the fact that they’re open carry.”
As far as the recommendations from several chain stores urging customers to not open-carry, Nye said the stores have the right intentions, but he doesn’t know if it will have an impact.
“What (the stores are) trying to do is make a statement,” said Nye, who grew up hunting. “At least in their stores, they’re trying to minimize or prevent random shootings and that may be beneficial. People might think twice about carrying firearms, openly or not, in those stores.”
On LDS Church property, “lethal weapons” are not allowed following the announcement of the new policy in August.
“Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world,” the new LDS policy states. “With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on Church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.”
Albertsons, Walmart, Walgreens and Kroger, the company that owns Fred Meyer retail stores, all issued statements this month asking customers to not openly carry guns while on their premises. All of those chains have multiple stores in East Idaho.
“We see our grocery stores as a hub in local communities & we’re proud to serve our neighbors,” Albertsons tweeted Saturday. “We want our stores to feel safe & welcoming for all, so we respectfully ask customers to not openly carry firearms in our stores unless they are authorized law enforcement officers.”
Lenny Stout, the store manager of Pocatello’s Albertsons, said whenever it is found that a customer is openly carrying a gun at the store, the person will be informed of the new policy “in a respectful manner” by a manager, but no other action will be taken.
“We’re not going to ask them to leave. We’re just going to let them know what our policy is,” Stout said. “We anticipate people testing us on this. It’s not illegal to open carry in the store. But we consider ourselves the grocery store hub of the local community and we want to keep everybody safe and feel safe, so that’s the direction we are going.”
Stout does not think that Albertsons’ new policy will put him or his store in an awkward position with his customers in a pro-gun state like Idaho.
“I don’t feel awkward about letting (customers) know what our company policy is,” Stout said. “I won’t enforce anything unless there’s an immediate danger and the person’s behaving strangely. Then of course we will call 911.”
The policy changes at Albertsons and the other chains follow four U.S. mass shootings since the end of July, with the latest occurring Aug. 31 in West Texas when a shooter killed seven people before being killed by police.
Nye said he doesn’t know what should be done to curb America’s mass shooting problem, but he said it is important to find an answer.
“What I would like to know is what’s the best way to minimize or prevent all these senseless killings? And I don’t think we’ve gotten the right answers yet on how to do it,” Nye said. “Some people are telling me you’ve got to treat it like a spreading disease or a plague.”