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
999 Lake Drive, # 200
Issaquah, WA 98027
*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.