Now that Illinois has joined many other states in allowing concealed guns to be carried, what can churches, other houses of worship, schools, social service providers, and other concerned nonprofits do? Plenty.
First, so long as a nonprofit operates on privately-owned property, it may legally ban people from carrying firearms (as well as other weapons) on its property. To do so, the nonprofit must “clearly and conspicuously” post a sign that is at least 4 inches by 6 inches in size, has a specific picture of a gun in a red slashed circle, and is otherwise in accordance with the Illinois Department of State Police requirements. Please click here for additional specific signage requirements, including the requisite picture. The sign must be posted at the entrance to the organization’s building or premises. Also, note that a gun licensee may legally bring a concealed firearm into a nonprofit’s parking lot, so long as he or she keeps the firearm within the vehicle or is only storing or retrieving an unloaded gun.
Second, this safety issue raises broader risk management considerations warranting careful attention. The nonprofit board, or one of its committees, should evaluate the safety needs of the organization and assess the possible measures that could be implemented to address such needs. Safety measures might include upgrading security systems and protocols, including additional equipment such as surveillance cameras, and training for staff and volunteers, with periodic review and oversight.
As nonprofit organizations consider these principles, applications will vary by context: Houses of worship should evaluate how the organization utilizes ushers and other people at the entrances and public areas during worship and at other times. Such efforts will not only help people feel welcome, but also provide for security and related “gate-keeping” measures. Schools and administrative offices may determine that it is appropriate to keep building front doors locked at all times. Schools, under the statute, are prohibited areas for concealed firearms. Nonprofits should also remain attentive to any specific security risks that may arise, such as from the nature of their specific programs or if individual conflicts become heated. An organization may determine that having authorized personnel with weapons may be appropriate, but such security measures should be implemented only after (a) very careful evaluation that such measure is warranted under the circumstances, (b) appropriate safety precautions have been taken so that no unintended harm may result, and (c) consultation with legal counsel and the organization’s insurance company. The use of armed guards by an organization raises a variety of legal and insurance-related issues. A nonprofit entity should therefore seek the advice and counsel of attorneys and insurance agents with experience in dealing with these issues.