Howard Givner is the founder and CEO of the Event Leadership Institute, which provides professional development resources for the meetings and events industry through a Netflix-style library of micro-learning videos and professional development courses. Previously, he was the founder of an award-winning event agency. Givner is a frequent industry speaker, educator and consultant on business growth, event strategy, innovation, event ROI and other topics. He can be reached at Howard@EventLeadershipInstitute.com.
For a number of years, I’ve been giving a presentation at industry conferences on “Disruptions Facing the Events Industry.” Of all the various potential disruptions – economic, political, technological, social, etc. – gun violence and mass shootings at events is the one I’ve been most worried about. They pose an existential threat to the meetings and events industry: to the safety of our event attendees, the viability of the businesses that produce them and the livelihoods of the people they employ.
As of this writing, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history – the 2017 Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, in which 59 people were killed – took place at an event. Other mass shootings in recent years have also occurred at events: a movie premiere, a food festival and an employee gathering.
Recently, 145 CEOs sent a letter to the U.S. Senate, urging them to take action on this issue, including: Uber, Levi Strauss, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Gap, Twitter, Condé Nast and Omnicom. Additionally, event and hospitality industry companies include: Eventbrite, Airbnb, Splash, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Stanlee Gatti Designs. It is long overdue that our industry join this effort.
At its core, this a safety issue. The ‘duty of care’ principle calls for planners to do whatever is reasonably feasible to safeguard the well-being of event attendees, staff and other stakeholders. When thinking of all the things that could go wrong at an event, surely nothing would be worse than mass murder. This is our responsibility, plain and simple. Just about any other safety risk would galvanize the events industry to action on numerous fronts. Yet the only discussions I’ve seen in the industry have focused on reactive measures, such as increased security and active shooter drills. We can, and must, address both the cause and the symptoms.
One of the 9/11 Commission Report’s most haunting statements is that those attacks could have been prevented. This shouldn’t be a problem for our industry, since there have been shootings at festivals and other events. If, however, you’re thinking, “Yeah, but that’s different; I plan conferences,” let’s paint an image closer to home: Picture someone committing a mass shooting at your most important, high-profile event. What would the fallout be for that event and your organization? What lawsuits would your company be facing? Other companies would likely cancel or dramatically curtail their own events. If a mass shooting occurred at a banking conference, for example, you can bet that executives at the other banks would be re-evaluating their event plans as well. Attendees outside the U.S. will start re-thinking coming to events here. In fact, more countries are issuing advisory warnings about the risks of gun violence when traveling to the U.S. The events industry could take years to recover.
Further, events would start to incur significantly higher security costs, due to additional guards, metal detectors, physical barriers, surveillance cameras, etc. Registration lists may have to be scrutinized more carefully. Tighter security for vendors at the loading dock would slow the installation process and require longer rental periods. The small armies of catering and event staff may have to go through background checks. Insurance for venues, hosts and vendors would increase.
While a mass shooting is clearly the worst of the gun scenarios, event attendees openly carrying firearms should also be a cause for concern. Picture the impact of someone with an AR-15 slung over their shoulder walking your show floor, or someone with a holstered handgun arguing with registration personnel.
And even if you’re able to bar firearms at your event, which a number of states won’t allow you to do, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stop people from being armed in common areas — e.g. convention center or hotel lobbies — or ancillary event sites like restaurants. (See: Can We Keep Guns Out Of Meetings?) Currently 44 states allow open carry of rifles and shotguns. Further, 31 states allow open carry of handguns with no permit required, while another 15 states require some permit or license. (Source: Giffords Law Center)
Given the potentially devastating impact of guns and gun violence, it’s surprising, and quite frankly disappointing, that the meetings and events industry hasn’t been more vocal in advocating for sensible gun safety. We have a voice when we want to use it. The movement to fight human trafficking has received broad support at the highest levels. The same can be said of incorporating sustainability and inclusiveness practices.
Ah, but those issues aren’t controversial, some might say. No one is actually in favor of human trafficking, right? Well, look at the industry’s response to recent anti-LGBTQ state laws, which did have strong support in those states. This is not a zero-sum issue. Tackling gun safety at events need not come at the expense of any other worthwhile causes. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. What will it take before we start speaking out on the mortal threat gun violence poses to our businesses and the people we are charged with safeguarding at our events? Where is our outrage?
Now is the time to act. Let’s not wait until yet another atrocity occurs at an event. Let’s start by advocating two policy initiatives already enjoying widespread and bipartisan public support, and can make a huge impact:
1) Institute universal background checks by having the Senate pass the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R. 8) which passed the House of Representatives early this year.
2) Reinstate the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
This is the bare minimum our industry should support, and is still a far cry from the regulations in most industrialized countries. Here are a few things you can do:
· Sign the Petition for Gun Safety at Events on behalf of our industry, supporting the two basic gun safety proposals outlined above, which will be delivered to members of Congress and state legislatures, in consultation with the corporate affairs team at Everytown for Gun Safety.
· Join a growing coalition of CEOs, thought leaders, influencers and industry professionals who want to make a difference.
· Contact your elected officials and let them know how this issue affects your events and businesses.
· Speak out. Share your concerns on social media. Email editors at industry publications. Talk to your association leaders.
Stand up and be counted. The current system is unsustainable and we must work toward a solution together. Your event attendees’ safety, and your livelihood, depend on it.C&IT