Guns ‘N Venues

When the

LA Memorial Sports Arena
AP Photo / Damian Dovarganes, file
– LA Memorial Sports Arena
Guns fill up a trash can for recycling at the LA Memorial Sports Arena in this 2012 photo. 

Although the details of the Johnson incident remain unclear, problems apparently centered around a backstage metal detector that artists were required to pass through. Live Nation, which owns the HoB chain, has had a recent requirement for metal detectors at all of its shows.

Johnson would not be the first artist to suffer cancellation because of perceived security problems related to guns. Metal band King 810 had gigs in Chicago’s

With regard to gun regulations, a venue policy normally trumps any existing precedent at the state or local level. 

A report commissioned by the International Association of Venue Managers in 2016 showed that 41 percent of owners surveyed who serve alcohol in open-carry states are allowing firearms onto the premises illegally. Half of the venues surveyed in the report said they could establish independent policies regarding firearms in the venue and, of those, 61 percent chose to prohibit all guns from the premises. Firearm bans were much more common in stadiums and arenas, with bars and convention centers being much more permissive.

Once a policy related to firearms has been established, it is the responsibility of the venue to communicate those expectations to the artist and crew, and it is those same parties’ responsibility to honor those policies, Mike Downing, Chief Security Officer, Oak View Group and President of Prevent Advisors told Pollstar

This dynamic of trust, it turns out, is at the core of venue security as it pertains to the acts performing.

The manager of a venue Johnson performed at several months prior to the incident in South Carolina said his venue does not, as a policy, wand artists or crew unless he has reason to believe they might be bringing weapons in the arena. 

“I’ve definitely made people put guns back on their buses before,” the manager said. “If you have decent security in a club, your artist doesn’t need to carry a pistol.”

The manager said the venue ends up mostly screening hip hop acts “who put pistols in all the videos,” and that those acts are usually understanding and go on to perform just like any other artist.

This system of loose vetting places a lot of trust in traveling staff, simply assuming that everyone is honoring the venue’s policy, but this manager said it would be hard to mandate the checks necessary to guarantee enforcement of venue policy.

“I’m not going to search every piece of gear that comes in,” he said. “If it gets to that point, people aren’t going to want to come out and play.

“You’ve got an arena tour and you’ve got 9-to-12 semis. You think they’re gonna go through everything? They’re gonna need an extra day. That’s where you’re going to start getting people to throw fits.”

While security dogs might represent a useful tool, the costs and time associated with absolute screening could bog down a booming industry.

Most large venues already have a form of armed security present, Downing said, and it generally behooves everyone participating in a show to honor a venue’s existing policy.

“The more there are guns that we don’t know about inside these arenas and stadiums … there’s a great risk that the person who pulls his gun because he thinks he’s defending himself is going to get shot,” Downing said. “If you have people at an event … that are carrying because ‘they want to,’ then you are headed to a potential crisis.”

Downing said while trust remains a crucial element of the security process, a greater emphasis on the vetting process of venue staff and tour crew, as well as incoming artists, is one way venues can protect themselves from unwanted guns.

“Trust but verify,” Downing said. “Trust your artists and the people that are coming in, but find a way to verify it as well.”

“You can’t possibly protect every single thing. But you put your security systems in place where the vulnerabilities are and, then, on the other stuff you do as much auditing and spot-checks as you can.”