Guns at work

August 18th, 2005 by Julie Ferguson

Should employers be able to prohibit guns at the workplace? ConocoPhillips thinks so and is challenging a recently enacted Oklahoma law to assert that right. In response, the NRA will be launching a national billboard advertising campaign calling for a boycott of ConocoPhillip’s gas. The Christian Science Monitor recently discussed this issue in an excellent article entitled Worker right or workplace danger?
Many employers have policies prohibiting weapons in the workplace as part of their violence-prevention measures. Such policies often encompass the employer’s total premises, including the parking lot. But at least a few states have laws that override such policies and affirm an employee’s right to keep legal arms in their vehicles. Such laws are in force in Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma – and perhaps some other states.
Oklahoma’s law is fairly recent, enacted in response to the firing of a dozen Weyerhaeuser employees in 2002 for having guns locked in their cars in the company parking lot. The OK law offers some protection for employers from liability should one of these guns be used in the commission of a crime, but it’s not clear how the law could protect employers from workers compensation claims, such as those that resulted from worker injuries and deaths at Lockheed Martin. Workers comp does not usually come into play in cases of random violence – say a crazed killer walks in off the street and begins shooting employees – but it generally covers incidents that are found to be work-related, such as a disgruntled employee shooting co-workers.
Many employers think that policies against weapons make for a safer workplace. According to The Christian Science Monitor article:
“Although workplace homicides have declined dramatically in the past decade, weapons bans do appear to make workers safer, according to a recent study. Among hundreds of North Carolina companies surveyed, those that permitted guns to be brought to work saw a risk of homicide five times greater than companies that banned guns at work. “We saw a statistically significant increase in the chances of having a killing in any workplace that permitted guns,” says Dana Loomis, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
Do employers have the right to establish policies on their private property? The NRA frames this as a Second Amendment issues, though others would see it as an issue of property rights. Jacob Sullum takes on the issue of The NRA vs. the Constitution in Reason Online:
If the NRA were simply objecting to ConocoPhillips’ policy of barring guns from its parking lots, I would have no problem with the boycott. Instead, the NRA is objecting to the company’s defense of its right to determine the gun policy on its own property. “We’re going to make ConocoPhillips the example of what happens when a corporation takes away your Second Amendment rights,” declares NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.
That statement makes no sense, since the Second Amendment is a restraint on government. The Second Amendment does not mean a private employer has to welcome guns in its parking lot, any more than the First Amendment means I have a right to give speeches in your living room.
LaPierre insists that “you can’t say you support Second Amendment freedoms, then turn around and support anti-Second Amendment companies.” I think you can, if you support property rights and understand what the Second Amendment really means.
With the recent passage of the Florida concealed weapons law, the defeat of the ban on certain assault weapons, and the protections from lawsuits recently enacted for the gun industry, it appears we are in an era where gun rights are expanding rather than retracting. How this will affect employers and their anti-violence policies remains to be seen. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these matters – we are particularly interested in the employer viewpoint.