Paula Fallon was barefoot in a class at ACAC in November when she stepped on a small stone. She was taken aback when a classmate asked, “Not a bullet?” That’s how she learned that the downtown fitness facility had changed its policy from prohibiting firearms on premises to allowing concealed-carry.
“It seems like a strange policy change,” she says. “It’s an uncomfortable policy change. And as a parent, I would want to be aware.”
She’s concerned not only that there are children in the facility, but there’s a special needs population—and an area where alcohol is served, she says. With concealed-carry, “that’s a weird combination,” she says.
Jason Perry, ACAC’s security director and a former Navy SEAL and Boston police SWAT member, was hired in January following the mass shootings in San Bernardino. The management “was interested in all the active shooter situations,” he says, and he spent six months evaluating all of ACAC’s 12 clubs.
“We didn’t want guns in people’s faces, but we didn’t want to deny concealed-carry permit holders either,” he says.
Fallon heard a story going around that someone brought a gun into a meditation class.
“It did happen,” confirms Perry. The gun was attached to a fanny pack and when the member stood up, it fell off his pack.
That incident violated ACAC policy on a couple of counts: “Open-carry is not our policy,” says Perry. “Our policy is the weapon has to be on your person. We don’t want to see it.” And that means that a gun should not be left in a locker.
He also points out that people with concealed-carry permits are not allowed to drink alcohol while carrying a firearm, and that they have training in proper use of a gun.
The policy changed this summer, and Fallon says she did get a personal response from the club about her concerns. “Their security person had decided this was the best course,” she says. “That’s a fairly questionable decision.”
ACAC isn’t the only fitness center that allows firearms, however. At Gold’s Gym, says Charlie Mills, “We don’t have any rules against it. Our manager has a concealed-carry permit.”
“We’ve never had to deal with that before,” says CrossFit Charlottesville co-founder Kyle Redinger.
Virginia’s open-carry law has caused consternation in some local businesses, such as Whole Foods, when shoppers spotted a man with a holstered gun in the produce department late last year, according to Slate senior editor and Charlottesville resident Dahlia Lithwick.
Whole Foods’ corporate policy is that no weapons, concealed or openly carried, are allowed on its premises, but local management told shoppers that because Virginia was open-carry, the store couldn’t prohibit packing heat in the produce section, according to Lithwick. A call from corporate headquarters in Austin cleared up that misunderstanding, and by January, a sign at the store’s entrance made clear the store’s gun-free policy.
Back at ACAC, Fallon isn’t the only one who was unaware of the change in procedure. Albemarle Sheriff Chip Harding is a regular, and he says he didn’t know guns could be brought in the club.
“I’ve always locked mine in my car,” he says. “I don’t have any reason to bring it inside” while exercising.
“For me, ACAC has been a sanctuary, a place for exercise and relaxation,” says Fallon. “It was a shock. I think I should have found out about it when the policy changed.”
Perry says members will be notified in literature going out soon, and that few fitness centers spend the money to train staff to deal with active shooter situations—or CPR—as ACAC does, because member safety is its first priority.
“No one believes that a sign that says ‘no firearms’ stops a bad guy with a gun,” he says.