When Guests Want to Check In With Firearms, What Can Hotels Do?October 9, 2018
On May 31, 2017, the police arrested a Pennsylvania doctor who had brought guns to a luxury hotel near the White House. What made the incident notable was the hotel’s name: Trump International.
It is still not known what the doctor, Bryan D. Moles, a former Navy corpsman who a friend described as a “hard-core Trump supporter,” planned to do in the nation’s capital. What is clear is that the police in Washington, D.C., acting on a tip that an armed man had come to town hoping to meet the president, received full cooperation from Trump hotel staff.
Employees informed the officers that the man had checked in and had guns in his car, according to a police affidavit. They provided the police with the key fob to his valet-parked BMW, where the officers found an AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle, a loaded Glock semiautomatic pistol and two 30-round magazines. Then they gave the officers his room number so he could be arrested. Dr. Moles pleaded guilty in federal court in July to carrying a pistol without a license, and agreed to forfeit the weapons in his car and at his home.
The Trump Organization and the Washington hotel each refused multiple requests to comment on the incident or state their firearms policies. But other Trump properties have the “gun-free” policies the president has condemned at schools and other public places. Asked on a reservations line, a manager at the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., said guests are asked not to bring guns onto that property, even if the owner has a permit and the weapons are locked in a safe.
That inconsistency reflects the larger confusion surrounding gun policies in U.S. hotels. As Americans struggle to balance competing ideas of safety and gun rights, a hotel industry that takes in $245 billion on yearly sales is caught in the middle. The stakes of that debate were raised significantly a year ago last week, when a gunman used his suite at at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas resort to carry out a massacre.
Wary of criticism and liability, and operating under a patchwork of state and county firearms laws, hotels have crafted an inconsistent range of gun policies that can vary from door to door on the same street and location to location within the same chain.
To help travelers navigate, we’ve explored the confusing mosaic of gun policies at some of the big hotel chains. But travelers should know that if they want to know the rules at the hotel where they will be staying, they need to call the location itself — regardless of local law, whether you have a permit or if the property is part of a chain — and ask.
Much of the discussion about hotel gun policies comes from travelers who want to take their guns on the road. On social media and gun-enthusiast blogs, some criticize hotels that ban weapons as “gun-free zones.” “I realize they have a right to do this, just as I have a right to no longer stay here,” a business traveler who signed in as BixTex wrote on the TripAdvisor site of a Holiday Inn Express in Mansfield, Tex.
On the other hand, 70 percent of Americans think guns should be banned outright from schools, bars and sports stadiums, according to the 2015 National Firearms Survey, a national poll designed by Harvard University public health researchers and conducted by the German research firm Growth for Knowledge. More than half of the nearly 4,000 Americans polled said guns should not be allowed in restaurants. (The survey did not ask specifically about hotels.) Several countries, including Canada, Germany and New Zealand, warn travelers to the United States about the easy availability of firearms and the frequency of violence.
Most of the hotel industry personnel contacted for this article were loathe to discuss their gun policies. “It’s a no-win situation for us,” said one representative who requested anonymity for fear of offending potential clients and others in the industry. “Either we’re infringing on rights or we’re compromising guest safety.”
Hotels are also worried about lawsuits. After the October 2017 mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay, hundreds of victims joined lawsuits accusing the hotel of lax security. MGM Resorts, which owns the hotel, had banned firearms from all its properties before the shooting, which killed 58 people and injured hundreds more. But the gunman spent days smuggling an arsenal of at least 23 firearms into his hotel room hidden in suitcases. Nevada is a permissive open-carry state, meaning that people there can carry firearms in public even without a license.
MGM Resorts in turn sued more than 1,000 victims and others, claiming that it cannot be held liable for the shooting under a 2002 federal law. The cases are still pending.
The checkerboard of gun policies can seem random and is often independent of local firearms laws, which themselves can vary from state to state and county to county.
The organizers of a 2016 biblical literature conference in Texas, which had recently enacted an open-carry law, advised attendees that three hotels on San Antonio’s Riverwalk — the Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency and Hilton Palacio del Rio — banned firearms. The nearby Marriott Riverwalk and Marriott Rivercenter, on the other hand, allowed guns. But even those policies seem to differ: at the Marriott Riverwalk, a security official said guests have to show a firearms license at the front desk before taking their guns to the room. Right across the street at the Marriott Rivercenter, a security official said simply, “because of the law, you can open carry.”
There are Marriotts in other states, even some in states with open gun laws, that don’t allow firearms. And the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago, in contrast to its Texas cousins, allowed guns when it hosted the Second Amendment Foundation’s Gun Rights Policy Conference in September. (Those weapons had to be kept unloaded and secured in a locked, hard-sided firearm container in guests’ rooms, Stephanie Lerdall, a senior manager for Hyatt’s global corporate communications, said in an email.)
Once a hotel has a policy, it has to be enforced. U.S. hotels don’t typically have metal detectors or baggage screening, and there is no way for staff members to know what guests are carrying in their luggage. Most hotel representatives would not discuss enforcement procedures in detail, saying that doing so would compromise security.
Some hotels post signs at the entrance explaining their gun policies, and several hotel representatives said that they can use trespassing laws to remove a guest who violates them. Las Vegas’s Wynn Resorts bans firearms, and has a security team that “includes crisis and tactical response, a K-9 team, mobile and stationary officers, surveillance and other departments which the company does not disclose,” a spokesman, Michael Weaver, said. The American Hotel & Lodging Association, a major industry trade group, does not make recommendations about gun policies, a representative said.
But it is often up to individual hotel employees to determine when and if the rules are enforced. After citing the policy prohibiting guns at the Trump International Beach Resort in Florida, the reservations agent added: “Of course, we do not conduct searches at all.”