Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Ronald Honeycutt didn't hesitate. The Pizza Hut driver had just finished dropping off a delivery when a man holding a gun approached him. Honeycutt wasn't about to become another robbery statistic. He grabbed the 9 mm handgun he always carries in his belt and shot the man more than 10 times, killing him. Honeycutt faced no criminal charges, because prosecutors decided that he acted in self-defense.

But the 39-year-old did lose his job: Carrying a gun violated Pizza Hut's no-weapons rule. "It's not fair," says Honeycutt of Carmel, Ind., who has found another pizza-delivery job and continues to carry a gun. "There is a constitutional right to bear arms. If I'm going to die, I'd rather be killed defending myself."

Employers have long banned guns from the workplace as part of a violence-prevention strategy, but those policies are being tested as states pass laws making it easier for residents to carry concealed guns - in some cases, crafting legislation that strikes down employers' attempts to keep guns off company property. That means employers, who have traditionally shied away from such politically charged issues as gun control, are filing lawsuits to preserve their no-guns-allowed rules. Gun owners are also fighting back, boycotting companies that ban guns or fire workers for having them.

"Are we promoting open firefights in the parking lot?" says Paul Viollis, president of Risk Control Strategies in New York. "For legislation to permit employees and contractors to bring loaded firearms to work in vehicles is blatantly irresponsible."

In 35 states, practically any non-felon can obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Those states require law enforcement officials to issue a license to carry a concealed weapon unless the person is in a prohibited category (generally, a convicted felon). Employers can still generally ban guns inside the workplace as long as they post signs or take other clear steps stating that no weapons are allowed, legal experts say, but some legislators are calling for new laws that would take that ability away.

The ability of companies to ban guns in their parking lots is coming under strong attack. In Oklahoma, a number of employers, including ConocoPhillips, are trying to overturn a law that allows employees to keep guns in locked vehicles on company property. The law was supposed to go into effect Nov. 1, but enforcement has been blocked as legal wrangling over the bill continues. Gun-owner groups say employers who ban guns are stripping away workers' right to defend themselves on the job. Roughly 76% of all workplace homicides are robbery related, compared with 7% in the general population, according to an unpublished 2003 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Having a gun is what Terry Pickle believes saved his life. In 2001, the owner of Pickle's Pawn Shop in Salt Lake City, was at work when two intruders broke in. They didn't ask questions or demand money. They simply walked in and opened fire. But Pickle and his son, David, grabbed the loaded guns they carry and fired back, injuring one. The intruders fled, firing at a customer as they left. Pickle says he now knows firsthand that guns on the job can deter crime and keep employees safe. The two men were later caught and sentenced to prison, with one serving 10 years and the other serving 71/2 years. "It saved our lives," Pickle says. "We would have been shot, probably dead, had we not had the ability to protect ourselves. They came in shooting. No words, nothing."

But others say laws that now allow guns in parking lots infringe on employers' property rights - endangering all employees and creating a situation in which a potentially violent worker who gets upset could have easy access to a firearm. In 2003, Doug Williams, an employee at a Lockheed Martin plant in Meridian, Miss., left the building, retrieved a shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle from his truck and returned, shooting 14 workers and killing six. The company bans guns on company property, but acquaintances said in news reports that Williams carried guns in his truck for target practice......

Even as employers wage legal battles to ban guns, some state legislators say companies should have less control. They support legislation that would allow employees with proper gun permits to carry concealed weapons on the job, not just into the parking lot. "Companies are prohibiting the rights of employees to protect themselves," Democratic Oklahoma state Sen. Frank Shurden says. "I am in favor of letting a licensed permit holder carry the gun in the workplace. There's no reason to fear law-abiding citizens." Gun-owner groups say the real risk is that workers unable to have guns could be attacked and have no means of self-defense....

More here

Comment from a reader:

That article raises some interesting issues from a libertarian point of view. My guess is that historically libertarians and conservatives would support the right of contract, so that if a voluntarily negotiated employment contract stipulated that an employee leave his firearms at home, that would be the end of the story. However in recent decades governments have increasingly intervened in this relationship. In this they have often been driven by "liberals" postulating all kinds of new fangled rights, usually contrived as superior to contract and property rights. It looks like this interventionism may be starting to backfire on the anti-gun liberals, will we see them now embracing the property rights of employers?

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