Keeping weapons out of newspaper buildings

Published August 2018

SCPA Attorney Jay Bender
By SCPA Attorney Jay Bender

For many years I have advocated that newspapers implement measures to keep strangers out of newsrooms.  My initial advocacy was provoked by my observations around the state that many newsrooms seemed to allow anyone off the street to walk through.

My initial concerns had to do with protecting source material and sources from prying eyes, and reporters and editors from subpoenas.

Times have changed.  Newsrooms and reporters have become targets for threats and assassination.

And the state of South Carolina has been feverish in its desire to let citizens carry concealed weapons.  The hypocrisy of the General Assembly in this area is evident in the statute that prohibits the carrying of concealed weapons in the capitol, and the metal detectors at the doors.

Political points aside, there are steps that newspapers can take to restrict access to their premises by persons carrying weapons.  And, since metal detectors are expensive and require trained staff to effectively utilize them, my suggestions will be more economical.

The first step is to post signs on the property and the entrance to the building.  The General Assembly has provided art direction for signage prohibiting concealed weapons.  The requirements are found in section 23-31-235 of the South Carolina Code of Laws.  Generally the signs must be 8 inches by 12 inches, feature the silhouette of a handgun in a circle with a diagonal line running at a 45 degree angle from lower left to upper right intersecting the silhouette of the handgun (and you thought the General Assembly couldn’t accomplish anything substantive).  The text of the sign must be in all caps with one-inch letters in black stating, “NO CONCEALABLE WEAPONS ALLOWED.”  The signs must be posted on each entry point to the building at least 36 inches but not more than 50 inches from floor level.

Anyone bringing a concealed weapon onto premises with such signage will be guilty of a misdemeanor.

What about weapons other than concealed handguns?  South Carolina has a criminal trespass statute which I believe was enacted to enable prosecution of lunch counter sit-in demonstrators during the civil rights era, but it remains on the books to make it a crime for a person to enter property after notice or remain on property after notice.  To take advantage of this statute I would suggest all newspapers wishing to prevent weapons from their premises have two signs.  The first would be the concealed weapon sign described above and a second sign reading, “Any person bringing a weapon onto these premises will be a trespasser.”

I acknowledge that signs by themselves won’t prevent those persons intent on assault and mayhem from bringing weapons to newspapers.  So, what else can you do?  If possible, configure the entrance to your building so that entry is controlled through a locked door.  Other doors should prevent entry from the outside without a key, but for safety should be operable from the inside without a key.  I realize that if the outside doors can be unlocked from the inside, and do not lock automatically, the contrarian nature of reporters is such that they will “forget” to lock the outside door when they run to their car to get a notebook or smartphone.

Next time you are in a fast food restaurant take a look at the inside of the back door.  Most have warnings about opening the door after closing time.  Some even have the dramatic warning that leaving the door unlocked might be deadly—armed robbers have shown a preference for going through the back doors of fast food joints at closing time.

I don’t think I am an alarmist, but I was stalked a few years ago by an unhappy libel plaintiff whose suit I got dismissed twice.  His lawyers warned me not to take him lightly.  I received handgun training, qualified for a permit, and practice shooting.  We also reconfigured the office so that there was one entry point, and all the other doors were locked to prevent outside entry without a code.

I want you to be safe, and I don’t want to go to any funerals for South Carolina journalists killed in the line of duty.

Jay Bender is a retired University of South Carolina professor and media lawyer who represents the S.C. Press Association and its newspapers.

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