Signage and Force Of Law
One of the most common talking points about anything related to concealed carry is whether signage like "no guns allowed" signs carry force of law. What we definitely know is that "no guns allowed" signs carry force of law in SOME states, but don't in others.
In other words, a "no guns allowed" sign makes a place a gun free zone in some states but doesn't in others. However, there is a catch, as just because the sign doesn't have the force of law doesn't mean that you can ignore a sign that forbids carrying weapons on the premisis.
So, let's go over which states give signage force of law. Bear in mind, of course, that we are not lawyers and this is not legal advice. We'll also go over what you need to know about when signage doesn't because it does not mean you can just ignore it willy-nilly.
Where "No Guns Allowed" Signs Have Force Of Law
Let us first define the difference between "no guns allowed" signs. What people mean when they talk about signage is private businesses and establishments, rather than government buildings. In other words, some states make it so private business owners and so on can declare that guns and people that have them, even if they have them legally with a concealed carry permit and everything, are not welcome.
In these states, the law gives weight to that signage. If you disobey it, you are guilty of a misdemeanor, usually something along the lines of possessing a firearm in a prohibited location.
We won't be dealing with the specifics of each state and their respective laws about it. If you are a resident of a state that does give signage force of law, it is incumbent upon you to research it and understand the scope, letter and spirit of the law in question, just like Castle doctrine and other self-defense laws.
So, where "no guns allowed" signs have force of law is the following states:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
* Utah and Virginia designate certain types of locations where the property owner or manager can prohibit the possession of weapons upon the premises. Additionally, some states designate certain types of private businesses to be gun-free zones, such as bars, day cares and - in states where it's legal - marijuana dispensaries.
Again, you need to look up the specifics of each of these states and their respective regulations. Some states require a very specific sign with very specific verbiage. However, all of these states give private property owners and managers the legal authority to ban weapons from the premises.
So, in these states, you need to be mindful of signage. Non-compliance means you're breaking the law.
No Force Of Law...But That Doesn't Mean You're Scot-Free
However, just because a sign doesn't have legally explicit force of law doesn't mean you're completely free to open carry or concealed carry there.
While "no guns allowed" signs may not have force of law in some states, what DOES have force of law is the right of anyone owning or otherwise in control of a property to forbid certain people from the premises. That includes people with guns, even if they're otherwise law-abiding citizens, have a permit and concealed carry training and everything.
Have a friend that insists you take your shoes off when you come in the house? Weird, sure, but it's their place and they have their reasons. It's kind of the same idea. If you don't take your shoes off, you're acting contrary to their wishes.
And a person who is engaging in behavior that is prohibited by the property owner is technically not welcome. Put a bit differently, Starbucks agrees you can come in, use their WiFi, order a caffeinated beverage and pay too darn much for it IF you agree to abide by the rules of the house. If you don't, then you aren't welcome there.
The legal term for a person being somewhere that they aren't welcome? That would be "trespassing," which is a misdemeanor.
So, while the sign itself may not have the force of law, you become guilty of the crime of trespassing if you go ahead and conceal and carry somewhere that makes it clear by signage that firearms or other weapons are not permitted on the premises. Maybe you don't ever get discovered, but you are still guilty of it if there is a sign on the door saying "no dangerous weapons."
When In Doubt, Don't Break Concealed Carry Laws
We cannot advocate that you do anything other than follow the concealed carry law of your state. It would be irresponsible, and furthermore reprehensible, for us or anyone else to do so.
Some people figure that "well, I'll only worry about it if I get caught. If asked to, I'll leave without a fuss" or in other words, break the law unless someone notices. Sort of like what a lot of people do with speed limits, stop signs, seat belts and so on.
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what you're going to do. However, acting in contravention to the laws of your city and state leave you liable for the penalties for the crime in question.
Some people opine that private business owners should welcome people who conceal and carry. After all, police are minutes away when seconds matter (sometimes longer, depending on their response times) but having lawfully armed citizens around can make things considerably warmer so to speak for the malefactors among us. There's something to be said for that.
Additionally, there's also something to be said for the worst-case scenario. Let's say you're carrying, contrary to a business's wishes, and somebody tries to rob the place. You draw your firearm and halt them in the act, holding them until police arrive. Are you going to get charged with trespassing? Stranger things have happened, but probably not.
However, there's the "should be" world and then there's the "is" world. We live in the latter. We must therefore be aware of what its rules are.