Workers with guns

January 31st, 2006 by Julie Ferguson

News is just now breaking about a Californial postal worker who shot and killed 6 colleagues and then turned the gun on herself. While details of this particular event are still emerging, post office shootings are – sadly enough – an all-too-familiar story. One fairly unusual aspect of this story is that the shooter was a woman. I can’t recall another incident of mass murder at the workplace perpetrated by a woman, but maybe our readers can.
Meanwhile, a proposed law in Florida would allow employees to keep loaded guns in their cars on company premises. Any employer attempts to curtail guns in company parking lots could result in third-degree felony charges with penalties of up to 5 years in prison or a $5,000 fine. Let me repeat that. If this law passes, Florida employers that ban loaded guns in their parking lots would be committing a felony.
Similar laws allowing guns in company parking lots have recently been passed in Alaska, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma , except none of those laws have the felony provision for employers. We previously discussed Oklahoma’s gun law and ConocoPhilips’ challenge to the law, a move that brought down the full wrath of the NRA. According to Workforce Management, the Florida law is intended as a template for other states.

The National Rifle Association, a major sponsor of the Florida bill, says it plans to get the legislation introduced in all 50 states. In states like Utah, where the measure has been tabled, the group is figuring out ways to reintroduce it.

“We have employers violating the constitutional rights of their employees,” says Marion Hammer, a former NRA president who is now the group’s Florida spokeswoman. By having policies that ban employees from keeping guns locked in their cars on company grounds, employers are denying their workers’ right to bear arms, Hammer says.

The NRA contends that employers are hiding behind “this sham of protecting their employees,” when really these companies are forcing their anti-gun politics on their employees, Hammer says. If companies really wanted to protect their workers, they would allow them to keep guns in their cars, she says.

Many employers and employer groups are concerned about their ability to keep workers safe in the face of such legislation. Forbes reported on a study published in the American Journal of Public Health finding that murders are three times more likely to occur in workplaces that permit employees to carry weapons than in workplaces that prohibit all weapons. In addition, opponents worry about potential employer liability. Although some laws include provisions that shield employers from liability, there could be challenges on other grounds, such as negligent hiring. Some opponents predict this will lead to an increase in pre-hire background checks and an increased use of metal detectors and surveillance cameras.
In our last post, we had a lively discussion about these issues and we would be interested in hearing more comments from employers, attorneys, employees … should employers be able to ban guns on their premises? Does the absence of guns make for a safer workplace? Will employer legal challenges to these laws prevail?