Last year, Jan Morgan, owner of the Gun Cave Shooting Range in Hot Springs, Arkansas, officially declared her establishment to be a “Muslim-Free Zone”. Apparently, the entrepreneur from the Natural State was concerned that Muslims were a threat to her safety as well as that of her patrons. On making the announcement, Ms. Morgan said she believed that “[I]t will cost me everything I have to fight for this.” In the months after her announcement . . .
it appeared that her beliefs may have been incorrect. In January, Washington Post reporter Abby Ohlheiser checked in with the Gun Cave only to find that “business is booming” since the ban was instituted. But Ms. Morgan’s luck may be about to take a turn for the worse.
On Friday, the Department of Justice advised the Post that it is “monitoring” the gun range for possible violations of Federal civil rights laws, after receiving calls for an investigation from the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It did not state whether or not it planned to launch an investigation at this time.
The Post also notes that in January, a father and son of South Asian ancestry accused Ms. Morgan of turning them away:
The men, who didn’t want to be identified in local reports out of safety concerns, said they are Hindu and accused the Gun Cave Shooting Range of racial profiling.
“We’re brown; I don’t know if she assumed we were Muslim,” one of the men told the Arkansas Times, a weekly newspaper based in Little Rock. “When she first asked us, she said, ‘I would hope if you were Muslim you guys wouldn’t be cowards and would be upfront about it.’”
Morgan disputes the father and son’s account. She told The Post in January that the pair’s “strange” behavior led her to believe that “these people might not be safe handling firearms in this range,” and that her business doesn’t discriminate against customers based on their skin color.
Does the Gun Cave’s ban on Muslims violate anti-discrimination law in the first place? Professor Eugene Volokh examined the issue earlier in the year, and thinks that may be the case.
The range is probably indeed violating the public accommodations provision of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, though that’s not completely clear. The Act applies to only particular classes of businesses….
The category under which gun ranges might be covered is “place[s] of exhibition or entertainment.” Daniel v. Paul (1969) held that this term includes “recreational areas” and not just places for spectators to watch events (as in the theaters, concert halls, and stadiums that are listed in the same subsection); United States v. DeRosier (5th Cir. 1971) likewise held that a bar qualified because of the presence of a “juke box, shuffle board and pool table for the use and enjoyment of the bar’s patrons.”
Interestingly enough, Prof. Volokh notes that Arkansas’ antidiscrimination law is broader than federal law, and apparently “covers shooting ranges that are generally open to the public.”
While we can spend all night drinking White Russians and arguing about whether or not discrimination in public businesses against people of certain religions is more similar to discrimination against people on the basis of skin color or ancestry (and, Richard Dawkins’ critique notwithstanding, I think that this question is less straightforward than it seems at first glance, given the fact that ethnicity, culture, and religion can sometimes be intertwined,) Prof. Volokh’s analysis of the law is probably spot-on.
L’affaire Morgan hasn’t received a lot of attention from the usual anti-gun people who would push for legal action, probably because a ‘win’ for them here would just establish that federal law protects people from discrimination on the basis of religion…which might actually encourage more people to exercise that right.
That said, this isn’t exactly a winning hand for the pro-gun side on the culture war front. You want to bet that this case gets progressively more attention from the left the closer we get to election day, 2016?
DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.