What Would You Do if a Customer Had a Gun on His Hip?

Sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI)

Loss prevention practitioners today face long-standing yet persistent threats, such as employee theft and shoplifting, and increasingly contend with new ones ushered in by a more virtual world. As difficult as it is to combat these risks, they are fairly clear-cut. The battle lines are clearly drawn. LP’s mission is straightforward.

There are other issues, however, which are murkier. Medical marijuana, transgender restrooms, and weapons-related challenges like the open-carry movement are a few of the gray-area, hot-button legal and social issues presenting new tests for retailers. Trying to navigate them is anything but straightforward—and is complicated by just how quickly they’ve risen, according to Damon Cavasin, director of asset protection at SpartanNash, a wholesale grocery distributor and retailer that operates nearly 180 stores in ten states.

“These are issues that ten years ago were not really anything people talked about at all, and because they’re so new, there can be a lack of knowledge regarding some of the aspects involved,” he said. Because there no definitive “right” reaction, these issues are causing a great deal of interest among asset protection and risk management professionals about what their peers are doing to address them. To help fill those knowledge gaps and satisfy that curiosity, Cavasin is leading an interactive roundtable discussion on the topic at the Food Marketing Institute Audit, Safety and Asset Protection (ASAP) conference in Orlando, March 22–24.

While these are not strictly loss prevention issues, it is LP that is most likely to be confronted with them in practice. Cavasin asked, “What happens when a customer comes into the grocery store with a gun in their holster exposed, and there is a frightened mom shopping with her kids? Has LP worked with legal and HR? Have they posted signs? Are you allowed to?” Medical marijuana gives rise to equally tricky questions, he said, such as the inevitable collision between a workplace accident, a positive drug test, and an employee with a medical marijuana card. Adding another layer of complexity to these issues is that laws differ by state.

Discussing these issues are not mere thought experiments, suggested Cavasin. Some stores have faced protests over their handling of the controversy surrounding bathrooms and transgender persons. Lawsuits have resulted from the discharge of workers over use of medical marijuana. But it is the issue of guns that Cavasin expects might dominate the debate and solutions sharing at the FMI conference roundtable—and the topic on which he is most keen to hear how his peers are responding.

It’s becoming difficult for retailers to avoid the issue, and some retailers have felt compelled to respond publicly. Last November, for example, Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss, issued an open letter to customers asking them to not bring guns into stores. Many states now allow unrestricted open carry, and retailers in those states may need to define a policy response to customers who want to openly carry a gun into their establishment—something that open-carry advocates have done in organized campaigns to test where high-profile retail chains stand on the issue.


Open carry can place retailers in an awkward position, requiring them to either, one, ban guns from stores and ask store associates to confront customers who attempt to enter stores while armed or, two, permit guns and potentially face complaints from customers and staff who are frightened by people wearing a firearm. It gives rise to a number of questions that LP/AP professionals need to consider, including: What should staff do if someone walks in wearing a gun? Do they know? What if a frightened customer complains? Does staff under¬stand how to proceed if an individual wearing a gun refuses to leave the premises? Do they know what legal recourse they have? Does store policy comport with state law?

The issue of medical marijuana is no less sticky. Its expansion into more states—now numbering more than twenty—increases the prospect of having employees under the influence of a legally prescribed narcotic while at work. Changes in state law regarding the treatment of marijuana, which are in direct conflict with federal law, have raised concerns and caused confusion among employers and employees regarding standards for drug-free workplaces and drug testing programs. In a recent survey, 4 percent of organizations said they have a policy to accommodate medical marijuana use, while 6 percent are thinking of developing one. The issue seems to demand consideration, as positive workplace drug tests for marijuana have increased nationwide by 26 percent since 2011 according to Quest Diagnostics’ 2016 Drug Testing Index.

Cavasin notes that human resources and legal departments are likely to take the lead in developing policies to cover these various emerging issues but firmly believes that AP/LP has an important role to play in crafting and implementing a retailer’s response. “These are very much HR and legal issues, but we know that HR wants to partner with AP on a lot of them from a safety and security perspective,” said Cavasin. “So it’s important to think about how AP will work in concert with HR to guide outcomes, and how can you work with your legal department or third-party legal provider to keep up with and disseminate their requirements.”

Cavasin hopes the roundtable discussion at the FMI ASAP conference expands the understanding LP practitioners have of these emerging issues, including recent case law and language in OSHA and other regulations that they may be able to use as support in crafting policies. “The goal is that everyone walks away with a little clarity on what the issues are and to give them some talking points that they can take back to help their company find the best ways to address them.”

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