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When This Doc Moved to a Concealed Carry State, She Didn’t Expect Staff to Be Packing

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DR. COLTAN, A recent NECO grad, was taking a risk. She and her husband, both avid hikers and snowboarders, had relocated from Rhode Island to Colorado to open a new solo practice. Over the last several months, between per diem shifts at local practices, she had worked to build her new office.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at [email protected]

Soon the time came to begin hiring employees, a task Dr. Coltan had been dreading. She had never even interviewed someone before, but within a few weeks she was able to secure employment contracts with Barbara, a receptionist/insurance biller, and Doug, an optometric assistant who had some optical knowledge.

Barbara and Doug helped Dr. Coltan a great deal with promoting the office leading up to the grand opening, as they had connections with many local businesses and community leaders.
On Dr. Coltan’s first day in business she was ecstatic about the seven exams her team had scheduled. The day flew by for everyone, and after locking the doors she invited Barbara and Doug to the break room for pizza and cake.

“Thank you so much for all your hard work today, and for pounding the pavement this last week!” she said, her eyes misting up.

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“You’re very welcome!” said Doug. Barbara, seeing Dr. Coltan’s emotional expression, reached out and gave her a big hug.

“Thanks Barbara,” she said, sniffling. As she dropped her arms she whacked her hand against something hard on Barbara’s hip. “Oh! Ouch,” she exclaimed. “Oops, are you okay?” asked Barbara.

“What was that?” Dr. Coltan wondered aloud.

Barbara swept her long cardigan back to show Dr. Coltan her sidearm. “I have a concealed carry license,” she said casually.

“Whoa!” Dr. Coltan’s heart skipped a few beats. She had never seen a handgun up close before, and instinctively backed out into the hallway. Doug and Barbara chuckled at her reaction, but Dr. Coltan felt her stomach turn in knots.

“It’s okay!” Barbara called out, “I’ve worn it for fifteen years. It’s an essential safety measure for the office.”

Dr. Coltan, still looking in from the hall, shook her head slowly. “It doesn’t make me feel safe,” she said quietly.

Doug and Barbara gave her a look of surprise. “There will be a lot of patients carrying,” Doug said. “This is Colorado. That’s just the way it is here.”

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The next day, Dr. Coltan found herself avoiding Barbara. She used the phone pager system rather than talking face-to-face and kept clear of the break room during the receptionist’s lunch break.

That evening, she brought up the issue with her husband.

“I don’t know if I can live like this,” Dr. Coltan sighed. “I feel hyper-focused on the hip or pocket of every person that walks in, wondering if they have a gun!”

“Can you put a sign in the window telling people they need to leave their guns in the car?” he asked.

“I mentioned this to Doug today, but he felt sure I’d lose patients,” she said. “I can’t believe I am on edge in my own office… I feel so blindsided by this.”

The Big Questions

  • Should this new business exclude a portion of the local population? How would you phrase signage at the front door?
  • Barbara is an asset to the practice, has done nothing illegal, and is not willing to stop carrying. How should Dr. Coltan proceed?
  • If you work in a state that allows it, how do you feel when interacting with patients who are carrying?
Darrell L.
Goodlettsville, TN

Interesting and thought-provoking Real Deal. The gun debate. A politically charged topic meets office management. I am a Tennessean, from the Nashville area, an optician/owner of a mom and pop optical shop and a believer in self-preservation. Through 40-plus years of dispensing, I have worked with numerous trainers and law enforcement, teaching them how to cope with presbyopia and the front sight. Yet, it is not just those who are paid to protect us, the general public has been coming to me for years who carry, some concealed and some open. At the age of 12, I was given the 12-gauge shotgun you would probably expect a Southern boy to get. I was also taught the proper use of the gun. If you don’t know how to use a tool, whether a lensometer, a hammer or a gun, then don’t pick it up. The doctor did a great job hiring. Barbara and Doug are working for the doctors’ best interest. “Avid hikers and snowboarders” and moving to Colorado implies they did visit before they moved. In Colorado it is legal to carry both concealed and open. Somewhere along the way they should have encountered locals who openly carried. Therefore she should not have been “blindsided” unless she had put on blinders. The first thing the doctor and her husband should do is take a handgun safety course to alleviate the fears they have. I’m not advocating that they buy a gun; they will be better educated after the course to make that decision themselves. They took a risk and moved to Colorado; I’d be more afraid of the bears. Partly, I feel sad that we live in a time that more of the populace feels the need to carry protection. Partly, knowing the person carries and has passed the course to own and carry making them one of the good guys, I feel relaxed. The gun is not the issue—that person needing my service is. But in the end, the doctor has every right to seek like-minded employees, have a pleasant office atmosphere and to decide who meets her criteria for patient base.

Joyce P.
Raleigh, NC

Usually those who have licenses to carry are doing it for protection, not to run out and start shooting the world up. We need to be more concerned about those who are carrying illegally, not legally.

Daniel M.
New York, NY

If you move to a state with open carry laws you have to accept that people will do just that.

Douglas C.
Beachwood, Ohio

Fear is derived, in this case, from ignorance. Dr. Colton needs to go to a range and take a class on gun safety and learn how to shoot. Doing so will allow her to gain an understanding of firearms and will make her more comfortable around them. When people conceal carry, you don’t know they have a gun … but are you safer around them or around someone who you know has one? There’s no difference. The doctor should have a gun policy for the office that states that people who are legally allowed to possess a firearm should be allowed to have it. Whether she likes it or not, it’s legal.

Brian C.
Prescott Valley, AZ

My office is in the Wild West of rural Arizona. Lots of people open and conceal carry weapons. I am not anti-gun. I grew up with weapons, so I was trained to properly care for and shoot pistols, rifles and shotguns. Took hunter’s safety classes as a teenager. I hunted elk, deer, duck, geese, doves for years. I own a shotgun currently. It is locked, unloaded, action open with a gun lock in the action, and the ammo is safely stored in a separate location. I put up a sign on my door that reads “No Firearms Allowed by Section 4-229” that AZ approved several years ago. I see them at the local VA I work in, at the local hospitals, and all the private practice MDs in my area. I am not an outlier on this issue. I did this because in the news at the time, somebody carried a concealed firearm into a business and dropped it causing a discharge (nobody got hurt). At the same time, I had a patient come in wearing TWO .45 ACP semiautomatic Colt pistols in holsters, open carry (Wyatt Earp style). He was wearing camouflage pants and black shirt with menacing writing on it. He revealed in his medical history that he had mental illness. This made my staff very nervous. In the lobby, I nicely asked him to leave his pistols in his car for the exam, showing him the 8×11 color sign on the door. I stated that in the 20 years my office was open that we never had a robbery or shooting or a need for a pistol. He huffed that I was “infringing on his second amendment rights.” I told him he could either leave the guns in the car for the exam or see another gun-friendly OD or MD down the street. He canceled, walked out the door and I haven’t seen him since. I frankly don’t care if I lose the business of people who feel (logically or illogically) that they need to carry a gun everywhere because they perceive a threat (real or unreal). My point is:

1. My office is my private property. I will do what makes me comfortable and safe. I will do what keeps my staff and patients comfortable and safe. I will control my office and what happens in it.
2. My office will be sued if a gun-toting person shoots or discharges a weapon that hurts anybody else. I need to limit my liability.
3. If you don’t feel your life is in immediate danger, then you don’t need a gun. If you feel your life is in immediate danger, and that you really need a gun, then you probably don’t need an eye examination right now.
4. Car accidents killed 11.9 people per 100,000 people in 2017. Guns killed 12.2 people per 100,000 people in 2017. I don’t let people drive cars in my office. I don’t let people have guns in my office either. Accidents killed 00.0 people per 100,000 in my office from 2002 to the present, and I intend to keep it that way.
5. This is not a political issue. It’s a common sense issue.

Sherri H.
Kansas City, MO

In states where conceal and carry are commonplace, to ask someone to leave their firearm in the car could indeed cause them to go someplace else. Dr. Colton feels very uncomfortable because she has not been around firearms. Maybe she should take a conceal carry class to get familiar with what conceal carry is all about. She might even feel empowered by the knowledge and know-how of handling a firearm. I personally feel more comfortable when I know someone is around with a conceal carry on them. She should also talk with other doctors in her area for their advice on this topic.

Angel M.
Cynthiana, KY

Pro- or anti-gun, that is an overly phobic reaction by Dr. Coltan to a trusted staff member. Maybe Coltan should seek counseling or move, because she can’t plant herself in a state that has a conceal carry culture, and demand that the patients and staff change for her. PS: Y’know, she has a gun right in her name…

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Tory M.
Dumas, TX

I would tell Dr. Coltan her fear is unreasonable and is because of unfamiliarity with firearms. Bad people conceal weapons all the time and you weren’t scared about that possibility? If not, you’re very naive. It was only after you were aware of it that it caused irrational fear. People are surprised if I mention I’m carrying concealed, because they can’t tell. Not the fact that I carry, but that they couldn’t tell. My advice is to ask the staff member to take you to the range and learn how to handle one safely and see what it’s like. It’s fun. And it’s freeing if you have a fear of firearms. Just like learning to drive a car, using a power tool, checking angles before dilating to prevent angle closure glaucoma, etc. If you are familiar, nothing to fear. You are going to have people ask you about prescriptions for using firearms; whether long rifles, shotguns or handguns. You might as well have a little knowledge about how they work to be a better expert too.

Brandy W.
Atlanta, GA

1.) You should absolutely NOT exclude concealed-carry patients from your practice.
2.) Dr. Coltan should expand her horizons, take a weapons safety course and learn. She clearly has zero experience whatsoever with weapons, and it seems she is making a judgment based on fear instead of education. I believe that she should respect her employees’ right to defend themselves, which is something she cannot do.
3.) I love to see patients carrying, or anyone for that matter — it makes me feel safer. I also conceal carry and rarely go anywhere without the means to defend myself. Many criminals carry weapons — we know this. I want to be able to level the playing field.

Julie U.
Jupiter, FL

I think the doctor should accept her employee with her weapon … she did before she found out. It is really great for the staff. Heaven forbid if someone came in with a weapon. At least they are protected. I carry in my business too and when customers find out we tend to talk about it in a positive way. The world is a different place, sadly, then it was years ago. I say CARRY on.

Dr. Craig F.
Rushville, IN

I have no problem with someone legally carrying a concealed weapon. This doctor should roll with the punches and learn to live with it. When she goes to the grocery store, or shopping at retail locations, she will be walking by other people that are carrying concealed weapons. Maybe she should take a gun safety class so she can understand the benefits and risks of carrying vs. not carrying a weapon.

Dennis M.
Cedar Park, TX

I’ve been a concealed carrier for over a decade and I suggest getting more educated on self-defense. Those of us with LTC are good people that have had EXTENSIVE background checks. Yes, it’s a way of life for a big portion of our country and is growing larger every day. I would suggest taking self-defense/beginner shooting classes and get to know the community. I’ve taken many first-time shooters to the range and seen their faces brighten dramatically. You don’t have to own a firearm, just be familiar with them. They’re not bad at all if you respect them and be responsible.

John L.
Nashville, IN

Ultimately, the decision of whether a staff member carries a firearm while at work lies solely with the practice owner. There may be serious legal or insurance issues that the doctor may want to discuss with her lawyer. Hoplophobia is a real problem with some people and the decision to relocate to a less conservative area may be necessary. Shooters, particularly presbyopic ones, have special visual needs, something that may help build a new practice.

Dennis I.
Monroe, CT

Dr. Coltan needs to grow up and be more tolerant. In fact, I think she needs to spend a little time at the gun range getting trained in the use of firearms. Who knows; maybe she’ll like it? Fear of guns is irrational. More people die at the hands of a drunk driver than the wrong end of a gun. She is not afraid of cars or beer, is she? Yes, this hit a nerve with me; as I have lost very young patients to gun violence (Sandy Hook). Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Learn to handle the (whatever object causing fear) and fear goes away.

D Bailey
Huntsville, AL

We all have certain rights that we can choose to exert or not. I have a license to drive a car, but my boss won’t let me park in the spaces saved for our patients. I can buy alcohol, but the doc won’t let me drink at work. We have policies covering these issues. If I don’t agree with the polices, I can always find another job. The owners should set their policies to reflect the type of business/environment that makes them comfortable. As an employee or as a patient, all that is important is that the doctor is providing exemplary service. If so, they will have many people wanting to work and see them, regardless of whether they allow dogs, alcohol, legal marijuana, and yes, even guns on their property.

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Natalie Taylor is an experienced optometry practice manager for Advanced Care Vision Network and a consultant with Taylor Vision. Learn more at tayloreye.com.

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