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Amusement Law: Gun Laws and the Amusement Industry Take Center Stage


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In late June, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of private gun ownership rights under the Second Amendment.  On the heels of that decision, one large theme park resort is embroiled in a controversy related to a new Florida gun law.  The issue is whether a provision in the state statute allows Disney to continue to prohibit employees from carrying firearms onto the resort’s property:

Disney cites language within Florida’s newly enacted "Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008" that creates an exception for companies whose primary business is to manufacture, use, store or transport explosives regulated under federal law.

"I intended it to exempt places like defense plants, Air Force bases, things like that, " said Peaden, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. "But not Disney. Not at all."

But on the same day that the House took its final vote on the gun bill, the exemption for explosives companies was revised so that it also includes "property owned or leased by an employer who has obtained a permit" under federal law for such explosives.

Disney has such a permit, for the extensive fireworks used in its theme parks.

The law has certainly provoked debate throughout Florida.  Feelings are so strong that at least one Disney employee appears ready to lose his job in order to test the legality of the new statute:

As a security guard, Edwin Sotomayer works strange hours and says he has a right to feel safe when he is commuting to and from the theme parks. He has been a Disney security guard for more than 13 years, but he’s willing to lose his job to stand up for his right to bring a gun to work

"I am going to be a test tube of this new law. If I am the first one to get fired at Disney, let it be, " he said.

Disney claims it’s exempt from a new state law allowing employees to carry guns in their cars because it stores fireworks, but Sotomayer says Disney is violating his rights and he plans to challenge the company Friday by putting his gun in a case and keeping it in his car while he works security at Animal Kingdom.

[The security officer was subsequently suspended after failing to allow his vehicle to be inspected once he arrived on Disney property].

Interestingly, according to the original Orlando Sentinel article, the other large Central Florida resorts are taking different tacts than Disney related to the law:

Other theme parks also might hold appropriate explosives permits because of their fireworks programs.

But Universal Orlando is claiming a different exemption: The resort houses a work-study program, the Universal Education Center, that is staffed by Orange County Public Schools.

"We are required to follow school-district policies, " spokesman Tom Schroder said. "The Orange County Public School System is exempt from this law. We have so informed our team members."

SeaWorld takes an entirely different approach: That company supports the rights of its employees or visitors to transport legal firearms in their cars, "and we have for some time, " spokeswoman Becca Bides said.

Now, it’s worth noting that, while Disney is taking a zero-tolerance approach for employees carrying guns onto its property, the company is apparently adopting an approach much more akin to Busch’s when it comes to guests:

Disney World spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez said the zero-tolerance policy applies only to employees. Guests with valid permits can keep guns in their cars.

Considering the fact that this Florida law immediately came under legal challenge, it’s hard to predict how this will play out.  But, one thing is certain:  with the Supreme Court broadly interpreting the Second Amendment, other states are already lining up as you read this to broaden the gun-carrying rights of their citizens. 

Amusement facilities should certainly keep close contact with their elected officials if this issue is important to you as the topic may soon be coming to a state legislature near you…

Quick Notes

•    Six Flags has decided to increase signage following a recent incident where a guest decided to climb over a fence (where warnings already were posted) and, after doing so, was struck and killed by a ride.  No word on whether the signs will say, “Hey, do you see this tall fence here?  Well, don’t climb it if you aren’t authorized to do so!”  Frankly, while this certainly is a human tragedy, there’s not much that amusement facilities can do to guard against intentionally dangerous conduct like this by guests bent on acting recklessly.

•    Arizona’s Governor has signed theme park legislation into law—primarily designed to help finance a proposed amusement park in the state.

•    Two Ohio parks are fighting local efforts to institute a tax on amusement tickets.

•    And, finally, Kennywood is demanding an apology:

Kennywood Park officials are demanding that three state legislators apologize or be censured for comments made on the House floor Monday about the new Spanish owners of the famous amusement park.

See you next Wednesday…

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