During the last five years, the United States has seen a drastic increase in mass shootings.
On November 5, 2017, just after 11:00a.m., a gunman entered a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and opened fire. That Sunday morning 26 church patrons were killed and another 20 were injured including men, women and children.
On October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at a music festival in Las Vegas leaving 58 people dead and 851 injured.
On June 12, 2016, a 29-year-old security guard killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
On December 14, 2012, a man walked into an elementary school and killed 20 children between the ages of six and seven years old, as well as 6 adult staff members.
In the wake of some of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, many businesses, schools and churches are asking themselves whether they should be doing more with regard to security. From a legal standpoint, the answer may be evolving. As mass shootings become more and more frequent in the United States, what should hosts of large groups be doing to protect their patrons from violence and themselves from liability exposure?
Unfortunately, the answer varies widely depending on the circumstances. Factors such as 1) crowd size, 2) location, 3) specific existing threats, 4) previous security problems and 5) the level of vulnerability of patrons are just some of the issues that should be considered. However, what we believe is reasonable and necessary when it comes to security is evolving rapidly. For example, many “soft targets” such as open venues, churches and schools that previously would not have been expected to have private armed security guards, may need to re-evaluate their security plan given the increase in mass shootings across the country.
While we hope we never reach the point where a jury of our peers is judging our security decisions in retrospect, when addressing security needs from a legal standpoint, consider what is reasonable and prudent given the current environment and substantial increase in mass shootings across the country.
The moral answer to this question is outside the scope of this article; however, from a legal standpoint, in a civil lawsuit alleging inadequate security, a jury would likely be asked to determine whether the Defendant was negligent. Negligence is defined as:
The failure to use ordinary care, that is, failing to do that which a person of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances…
In an era where mass shootings are becoming commonplace, churches, schools and businesses should consider that what may have been reasonable (i.e. ordinary prudence) five years ago, is not necessarily reasonable today. At what point does it become negligent to fail to have professional armed security if you are hosting a large, vulnerable group of people? While the answer to this question will vary depending on the circumstances, in the context of a civil lawsuit, a jury will inevitably decide.