Nebraska Furniture Mart's decision to arm its store security staff with handguns is a leap into uncharted territory, retail experts said Thursday.
While other retailers have been taking “baby steps” to beef up security, “they are not taking leaps and bounds like that,” said Corrie Tallman, project coordinator at the Loss Prevention Research Council.
“I work with several sporting goods retailers that sell guns and ammunition — high-risk merchandise — and I have not heard of any of them doing that,” Tallman said.
The Gainesville, Fla.-based council partners with more than 40 major U.S. retailers, including Dick's Sporting Goods, Cabela's, Rite-Aid, CVS Pharmacy, Walmart, Sears and Best Buy, to enhance store security and mitigate retail losses.
“I've been in lots of conversations with retailers, but I've never heard of something like this,” Tallman said. “That's such a large liability.”
In less than two months, security guards armed with handguns will patrol Nebraska Furniture Mart's stores in Omaha, Kansas City, Des Moines and, beginning in 2015, a new Dallas-Fort Worth store.
In addition to arming security staff, the electronics and furniture retailer will remove the “No Weapons Allowed” signs posted on its retail properties and allow customers who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon inside its stores, Bob Batt, the company's executive vice president said Thursday.
Batt cited incidents in which store employees have encountered people carrying weapons inside the store, including someone brandishing a knife.
“Times have changed,” Batt said. “You look at college campuses, retail establishments. ... We only have one mission here, and that's the safety of the staff and customers. We're sending a message that we will not tolerate any bad behavior.”
In defense of the company's policy changes, Batt said months of outside research and discussion went into the decision.
“We consulted experts in corporate and personal security. We didn't do this on our own.
We consulted the best minds on this strategy. It's only because we want to protect people,” said Batt. “Our goal is that this kind of thing will never be needed.”
Like many Omaha residents, Batt recalled the December 2007 shooting in the Von Maur department store at Westroads Mall that claimed the lives of eight people.
“There were no personnel there to react to the shooter,” Batt said. “A first responder came running to that and, by that time, we had several dead.”
The Mart's security staff, many of whom are ex-military or ex-police officers, will receive extensive firearms instruction and training in defusing conflict, he said.
Batt said the store's security staff is thoroughly vetted and the Mart is a safe place for customers and employees. “We do full background checks on everyone who comes to work for us,” he said. “We have people in uniform and people in plainclothes at all our stores. If you do something wrong at our place, we prosecute.”
Batt said customers with concealed weapons permits are already carrying firearms and shopping at the store. “If they've got a permit, they've been trained. They have been certified. They know what they're doing.”
In recent months, the nation's retailers have stepped up security, adding staff and surveillance cameras and installing new technologies intended to boost employee and customer safety, said Sandi Davies, executive director of the International Foundation for Protection Officers based in Naples, Fla. The foundation trains security officers.
Armed security officers at retail establishments and malls are rare, she said, but the number of retailers staffing their stores and parking areas with additional security officers is on the rise.
In Nebraska, conceal and carry is legal, said Lt. Darci Tierney of the Omaha Police Department. And businesses aren't required to inform police that their security force is armed, said Omaha Officer James Shade.
“We have good working relationships,” Shade said. “If it were a situation where there were an active shooter, we would work with security. They know where the cameras are, where the hiding places are.”
Responses to the Mart's announcement on The World-Herald's Facebook page ranged from approval to concern to sarcasm.
Many applauded the store's new policy: “This is a good move. This is a bold move. I hope other places of business follow.”
“Thank you NFM.”
“Another reason to shop at NFM!”
Others specifically supported the decision to allow authorized customers to bring firearms into the store: “Carry conceal permit holders ... are there to protect you in case some criminal decides to illegally use a gun!”
But others questioned that part of the decision: “If we want to increase safety, why not allow armed security and ban customers from carrying guns?”
One person's comments criticized Mart owner Berkshire Hathaway for allowing one of its companies to arm employees.
Some vowed to stop shopping at the Mart.
Said another: “I've been in NFM during the Christmas season and it gets crowded and people are pushy ... this will not play out well.”
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