Change of heart: ACAC reverses concealed-carry policy

The idea of ACAC members carrying concealed firearms during vigorous exercise unnerved more than 300 people who signed a petition vowing to quit the club if packing heat persisted.  Staff photo The idea of ACAC members carrying concealed firearms during vigorous exercise unnerved more than 300 people who signed a petition vowing to quit the club if packing heat persisted. Staff photo

One day after C-VILLE Weekly’s December 14 story about ACAC’s quiet change in policy that allowed concealed-carry of guns—and social media blowing up with outraged members threatening to leave the club if guns were allowed on premises—the fitness center changed its policy again.

“Our primary objective is to create a safe and welcoming environment in the clubs, and the safety of our members and team members will always be our priority,” says an unsigned post December 15 on the club’s Facebook page. “We have made the decision to prohibit guns on ACAC property with the exception of law enforcement and ACAC security officers.”

Erik Braun is an ACAC member who started a petition late December 14 and by the next day had nearly 300 signatures of members who vowed to end their memberships if firearms weren’t banned by December 26. “We believe this is a bad policy that only increases the chance that ACAC members, including children, could be harmed or killed,” it said.

Braun’s reaction to finding out guns were allowed at ACAC was one of “dismay and profound concern,” he says. “Concealed-carry is not a way to make a place safer. It produces inadvertent danger and the chances for an accident increase.”

He says his family has always enjoyed ACAC, but knowing guns were allowed “is a deal-breaker for me.”

Even Braun was surprised by the rapidity of the change in policy and that by December 15, ACAC was thanking members for their feedback and stepping back from allowing them to pack heat while exercising.

Braun had called the club December 14, and says the person he talked to was “courteous” and “quite responsive” but “quite clear that was the policy.” He was put in touch with security director Jason Perry and got a voicemail that left “the accurate perception they weren’t going to change their policy,” he says.

He also wonders why members weren’t notified of the change in policy when it happened over the summer. “It was a fait accompli,” he says.

ACAC member Paula Fallon also was surprised at the speed of ACAC’s response once the story came out. She’d first asked the club about the policy change in November, when another member jokingly asked if she had stepped on a bullet during class, and she learned that a member had open-carried a gun to a meditation class and had dropped it.

“The gun falling out in meditation class probably sealed the deal,” she says.

“I heard it was just crazy Wednesday,” she says. “A busy, busy day answering the phone calls from irate people.”

And while she’s glad the club made the change, she challenges ACAC’s statement that it “appreciated the opportunity to engage deeply in conversation with our members and the community.”

Says Fallon, “It’s not a conversation when it was not publicized when it first came out.” She believes the decision was more money driven. “They’re very bottom line,” she says.

ACAC founder Phil Wendel and Perry did not return phone calls from C-VILLE. In an e-mail, Perry directed a reporter to spokesperson Christine Thalwitz, who declined to comment.

In its Facebook post, ACAC says it will send the revised written policy to its members.

“If they’d been forthcoming,” Fallon adds, “it would have felt very different.”