Is Anti-gun Costco intentionally duping gun owners?

The issue of Costco and gun rights has reared its ugly head again.

The issue came up in an e-mail thread yesterday.

Basically, a member of the e-mail list posted a link to a page outlining Costco’s gun policy:

By obtaining a Costco membership card, our members agree to comply with the Membership Rules and the Privileges and Conditions of membership.

Costco does not believe that it is necessary for firearms to be brought into its warehouse stores, except in the case of authorized law enforcement officers.  For the protection of all our members and employees, we feel this is a reasonable and prudent precaution to ensure a pleasant shopping experience and safe workplace.  Our policy is meant to protect our members and employees in all warehouses around the world.  This is not a new policy and we do not customize the policy for each individual city/county/state/country where we do business.

Every business has the right to set their own policies regarding firearms on their privately owned property.  I do not begrudge them this right.  And, as a membership only organization, Costco most definitely has the right to set policies to which members must agree when they sign up for membership.

The problem is that this policy is not disclosed in any form to members prior to joining.

There is nothing in the brochure (pdf link) outlining the “Privileges and Conditions of membership.”  There is nothing on their FAQ page.  They do not post “no guns” signs in their stores.  In fact, I can’t find a link to the above policy page that is accessible from anywhere on Costco’s main site.  It appears to be completely inaccessible unless you know the specific url with which to access it.

How, specifically, can members be considered to “agree to comply with” a condition of membership that is actively and, intentionally withheld from them short of a specific inquiry?

How do I know that the withholding of this vital information is intentional?  Because I had this issue with Costco several years ago.  Unaware of their gun policy, I was a member, but was informed of their policy third-hand.  I inquired about the policy at the store and was informed that “no guns” was, indeed, the corporate policy of Costco.  When I asked to see this policy spelled out in writing, I was told that it was not a written policy and was referred to the corporate offices.

The Corporate office responded to my inquiry with the above statement in an e-mail.  When I pointed out that an e-mail does not constitute an official written policy, they basically told me that if I don’t like it,  I don’t have to be a member.

They’ve had several years to address this issue and publicly post the policy in a manner accessible to people who are considering purchasing a membership.  They have declined to do so.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that they are an anti-gun organization but are intentionally duping gun owners by hiding this fact.  Gun owners who lawfully carry firearms into Costco facilities are unwittingly violating the terms of their membership.  This can create a potentially deadly situation as a Costco employee may notice a lawfully carried firearm and call the police, causing an unnecessary confrontation that could possibly end tragically (ETA:  And HAS*) should the responding officers or the gun owner respond to the situation imperfectly.

I, for one, took advantage of Costco’s 100% membership guarantee as soon as I became aware of their duplicity.

Costco’s 100% Satisfaction Guarantee

On Membership: We will refund your membership fee in full at any time if you are dissatisfied.

I’m not much of one to tell other people what to do so I’m not necessarily recommending any particular action on the part of other gun owners, but I believe it is imperative that the word get out about this so that law abiding gun owners can at least make an informed decision when choosing whether to join Costco or take their business to one of the competing discount clubs.

For that reason, I would ask that other bloggers share this information with their readers.

In case you’re interested in contacting Costco about either their “no guns” policy or their failure to disclose it properly, here’s the contact page from their web site, and the contact info for their current leadership:

Jim Sinegal, Founder & CEO
Jeffrey Brotman, Founder & Chairman
W. Craig Jelinek, President/COO
Costco
999 Lake Drive, # 200
Issaquah, WA 98027
425-313-8100

*Update:  Hat tip to VegasChris who, in comments, reminded me of the recent incident in Los Vegas where a gun owner was killed after a Costco employee saw his lawfully carried handgun and called the police.

There is some controversy as to what actually happened, but I think it’s safe to say that the situation was, in fact, handled imperfectly and ended in unnecessary tragedy.

11 thoughts on “Is Anti-gun Costco intentionally duping gun owners?

  1. This is not a reason to join/not join, but I'll say this: fortunately, in Alaska there is a State requirement to post a specifically-worded sign at all entrances, banning the carry of firearms on the premises. Failing that, they cannot legally stop you from carrying (concealed or open – both are legal, statewide).

    There is no such sign at the Costco stores here. However, I rarely shop there, as the parking lot lanes & spaces are almost too small for my truck to navigate.

  2. This is not just theoretical. CostCo employees in a store here in Las Vegas that was not posted saw a customer's holstered, legally carried firearm and called in a false police report that resulted in the man's being shot and killed by Metro police. His name was Eric Scott, he was an Army officer and a Duke MBA. As far as I am concerned the CostCo staff at this store are morally, if not legally, responsible for his death.

  3. I remember seeing that story floating around, but couldn't remember for sure if it was a Costco or not.

    I hope the family of the victim sues Costco to kingdom come for that one.

  4. Fortunately the guy's father is a military writer and journalist so the story isn't likely to go away anytime soon. The official police inquest was initally suspended but has now been rescheduled. There were supposedly "technical problems" with the CostCo surveillence camers that covered the areas inside the store where the incident began and outside where the shooting happened that required sending the tapes out of state. We'll see what happens at the inquest.

  5. We do not have any in my area, but I am fairly certain (at least from second-hand reports) the Costcos in TN have posted their premises (probably because any legal support to the ban requires a posting).

    That Las Vegas thing, though… wow. That is pretty despicable.

  6. Sorry Rev. Paul, but you are mistaken. If you are asked by an agent of the company (usually a member of the management team or security staff, but any employee can do it) not to carry, or to leave the premises if you are, you must comply. Failure to do so constitutes trespassing.

    Curt, I too am taking advantage of the 100% Membership Guarantee, in about 45 minutes. I'll report back on the success of that endeavor. However, I contacted my Costco alternative, Sam's Club and verified with their customer service department; They comply with state law on the matter of firearms in the store.

    Looks like I'll be trading my refund for a different membership.

  7. Interesting… We have both a Costco and a Sam's Club in the town nearby. We keep a Sam's membership but not a Costco one. I've thought about switching over the Costco, but I certainly won't be doing that now.

  8. I'm not exactly sure how to respond to this news. If Texas had open carry I would certainly carry that way in the local Costco unless it was posted otherwise (as would many folks here). As to being asked to leave for doing so? No problem. Shredded membership card would be returned. Costco would be on every 2A supporters radar also once news of that got out. But that's not what we have here. You got a stealth policy that carries little to no legal power. It's likely rarely and selectively enforced. Sounds a whole lot more like Costco just doesn't have any gonads to me. We'll have our anti gun policy so we can feel righteous but getting the other fellas money is way more important so we won't talk about it…

  9. I like Utah. They can ban firearms all they want, but they cannot do anything legally about you carrying a firearm except ask you to leave if they want to. If you don't, then they can try for trespassing.

  10. "Costco does not believe that it is necessary for firearms to be brought into its warehouse stores."

    What legal weight does "necessary" have? This sounds intentionally vague to me.

  11. It is vague. And in Virginia, since they don't post, you can legally carry there until someone asks you to leave, at which point you're trespassing if you refuse.

    It's not the legalities that I'm concerned about. I'm concerned about it for two reasons:

    1. I don't like giving my money to anti-gun businesses. As I said in the post, I don't care what their policy is, but I have the right to know who I'm doing business with right up front. If that's company policy, we need to be informed of it before choosing to spend our money there.

    I especially find it interesting that, as a part of that policy statement, they specifically mention that "members have to agree to the rules" but that policy is patently absent from those rules. It's BS.

    2. Costco employees are aware of the policy. When I asked at the store in my town a few years ago, they confirmed it readily, even though they had nothing in writing to confirm it. They are being trained about this policy and know it exists, even if the stores aren't posted.

    That makes further incidents like the one in Las Vegas all to possible.

    I would prefer not to get killed because some hoplophobe working at Costco who is aware of the "secret" policy, notices the bulge under my shirt, over-reacts and calls the cops.

    Sorry…simply not doing business there any more. Too many other alternatives where I can carry openly or concealed without concern…and by shopping at those places, I'm not subsidizing an organization that doesn't respect my rights.

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