It’s no secret: Guns are an explosive topic today. Flip to the op-ed page of your local paper and opinions for and against firearms fly fast and furious. The jewelry industry is no different from the culture at large when it comes to this polarizing subject. Some retailers say it’s important to exercise their right to bear arms in an industry where 86 store personnel were killed in store robberies between 1998 and 2012. Others say guns have the potential to harm more than protect, and some go so far as to say that even their customers shouldn’t pack heat.
John J. Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, believes there’s no ambiguity in this debate. “In the overwhelming number of cases where [store personnel are] shot or killed, there was resistance. When robbers are in your store, you’re always in second place,” he says. “We are far more interested in protecting the life and safety of jewelers than your product.”
For every store owner who sends the bad guys scrambling for the door in a hail of bullets, Kennedy says there are many more who rely on firearms to protect them and are instead victimized, some wounded with their own weapons, others left to grapple with guilt after injuring or even killing an innocent person.
David Sexton, vice president of loss prevention at Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co. in Neenah, Wis., agrees with Kennedy. “The company has always had the position that guns are not a good idea in a jewelry store,” he says. “Our primary concern is life, safety, and protection of property—in that order. We feel that guns threaten that.”
Sexton points out that bullets don’t always go where the shooter intends: They can ricochet off walls or furniture, or penetrate a window and hurt someone outside the store. “It’s not just the person with the gun, it’s everybody else,” both in and immediately outside the store who could be injured by a bullet discharged by a robber or store owner.
There’s also the issue of liability. If an innocent person—or even the robber—is struck by a bullet, he or she can sue. And if your insurance policy has an assault and battery exclusion, that could add up to big trouble and even bigger legal bills.
Gary Wasserman, principal of International Jewelers Block and Wexler Insurance in Coral Gables, Fla., says the choice of whether or not to arm yourself is a “purely personal decision,” but adds, “it does bring up certain liability issues anytime somebody uses a weapon, even if it’s for protection purposes.”
Many standard insurance policies have an assault and battery exclusion that doesn’t cover damages that occur if the policyholder were to, say, shoot a fleeing robber and inadvertently hit a customer. “You’re absolutely on your own and that can be problematic,” Wasserman says.
And if you have a gun, hesitation can be as dangerous as a weapon. “If you have a gun and you intend to pull it out, you better be prepared to shoot,” Wasserman says. “Otherwise, you put yourself in more danger.”
Kennedy says too many jewelers who carry weapons overestimate their ability to outthink and outshoot a criminal during a holdup. “There’s no question that some inexperienced robbers will flee, but most jewelry store robbers are experienced, and if they’re experienced they’re not really intimidated,” he says. “Experienced robbers don’t botch the job.”
“I think you’re just asking for trouble.”
“If somebody wants to protect themselves by the Second Amendment, they have every right to do so,” says Marc Green, co-owner of Lux Bond & Green, an eight-store brand headquartered in West Hartford, Conn. But from the perspective of a business owner, Green says his first responsibility is to keep his employees and his customers safe—and he agrees with Kennedy’s assertion that wielding a gun is more likely to get an innocent person hurt.
“I think you’re just asking for trouble with that kind of situation when there are other people around,” Green says. “You’re more apt to have a problem if you do—as a store owner or manager—have a weapon.”
Police officers and other people who carry weapons professionally go through training to learn not just how to shoot a gun, but when and how to use it in potentially dangerous situations, Green points out. “There aren’t many people who have expertise in how to use, when to use, a handgun. They just don’t have that expertise like law enforcement professionals do,” he says.
“I have no interest in carrying a gun at this point.”
Lee Krombholz, owner of Krombholz Jewelers in Cincinnati, says that although his grandfather once fended off armed robbers with a shotgun he kept at the store in the 1960s, today’s climate demands a more cautious response. “My grandfather was a hunter and a gun collector. Also in that day and age, I would imagine it might have been more common,” he says.
Although his store has been the victim of smash-and-grab burglaries, Krombholz counts himself fortunate to have avoided a face-to-face confrontation with an armed robber. He describes himself as not being a “gun person,” adding, “I would definitely not have a gun unless I was very serious about being trained to use one.”
“The responsibility I would feel would be for my customers and my employees,” he says. “Unless I was absolutely certain I could use it in a way that’s safe and appropriate, I would never have one.”
“More people are being bolder and stupid.”
Dan Gordon, president of Samuel Gordon Jewelers in Oklahoma City, found himself the target of angry comments when he posted a picture on his personal Facebook page of a sign at his store saying customers weren’t allowed to bring their guns inside.
“I wasn’t trying to stir up stuff, but inevitably, it ended up being a divisive post,” he says.
Gordon currently doesn’t arm himself at his store, but says he is considering it. “We’ve recently talked about myself or our manager having a firearm at the store for extra protection because we’ve seen a heightened amount of potential crime,” he says.
Times have changed, he adds, and the jewelry business has gotten more dangerous. “With the state of the economy and the way things have gotten…more people are being bolder and stupid,” he says.
But Gordon says it’s way too risky to have armed customers coming in the store. “If we allowed people to carry, we’d basically be inviting a holdup.”
In considering a firearm for himself, Gordon says he’s weighing the prospect of protection against the risks a weapon presents: “We want to make sure it’s actually going to be an effective tool if there was an emergency situation.”
“If someone else got hurt, how would you feel?”
If a robber pointed a gun in his face, Lynn Schulwolf, co-owner of Royal Fine Jewelers in Louisville, Ky., knows just what he’d do. “Give them what they want—help them put it in the truck if they want,” he says. “That’s why you have insurance.”
Schulwolf says keeping a gun at his family-owned store would be too risky. “No way.… It’s not only your life you put in jeopardy, it’s everyone else around you,” he says. “If something happens and someone else got hurt, how would you feel?”
He holds this opinion even though he did have a run-in with an armed robber at his store three decades ago, an incident that left him shaken for months afterward. Schulwolf still thinks he did the right thing by not being armed. “Violence leads to violence,” he says. “If someone comes in to rob you, there’s nothing you can do.”
“I don’t think everyone is ready for it, but I do see a place for it.”
“They can be an asset or a liability,” says David Craig, owner of David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, Pa. If a store owner plans to keep a gun, he says the most important thing is that they go beyond just target practice and become trained in how to use it in a crime situation. “It’s a big responsibility,” he says.
Inexperienced gun owners could be too quick on the draw or overestimate the measure of protection a firearm gives them. Overreacting and shooting a fleeing thief in the back, for instance, could land a jeweler in legal hot water, and Craig points out that there could be emotional or psychological scars as well.
“They should be somewhat of an expert,” he says, and have the ability to discern between a threat to their business versus their life. “If someone wants to rob your belongings, let them. But if you really believe that person’s going to go further, maybe it gives you an edge and stops them.
“I don’t think everyone is ready for it,” Craig says, “but I do see a place for it.”
“It takes such emotional control to know how to use a weapon.”
Back in September, Gary Thrapp, owner of G. Thrapp Jewelers in Indianapolis, survived a nightmare scenario when he was shot by robbers during a home invasion. And yet, Thrapp maintains that a jewelry store is no place for a gun.
“It’s something I’ve never even considered doing,” he says. “I can’t imagine using a firearm in a situation in a store that would potentially endanger the broader base of people there.”
Even after his frightening encounter, Thrapp says the risk that an innocent bystander could be hurt is just too great. “It takes such emotional control to know how to use a weapon, particularly in a crowded environment,” he says.
Store owners should take precautions like remaining vigilant and keeping security equipment up to date and maintained, Thrapp says. And if a store is robbed, he adds, “that’s why you have insurance and remote alarm buttons you activate after they have left.”