Legally speaking, companies have every right to prohibit employees from bringing guns to the workplace. Prohibiting them from bringing guns to the parking lot of the workplace...well, that appears to be another matter entirely.
In fact, lawmakers in several states are considering bills that would ban businesses from barring weapons in company parking lots. In Florida, proposed legislation would allow staffers to bring handguns to work — as long as the workers keep the weapons stowed in their cars. A Utah bill would curb an employer's ability to restrict the carrying of guns on company property.
If the proposals pass, Florida and Utah will join a growing number of states that have acted to limit the rights of employers on their premises. Over the past three years, lawmakers in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Alaska, and Kentucky have all approved bills making it legal for employees to store guns in cars parked on company property.
Not surprisingly, the laws have sparked a new round of debate between advocates of the right to bear arms and antigun groups. Backers of the bills say workers have a constitutional right to house weapons in their own vehicles. They also argue that the laws enable workers to protect themselves as they travel to and from work.
Many employers disagree, however, insisting that the laws hamper their ability to protect employees at work. There is strong evidence that guns and offices do not mix. Indeed, a recent study by a professor at the University of North Carolina found that homicides were about five times more likely to occur in workplaces where guns were permitted than in those that prohibited them. Overall, firearms were used in three-quarters of the workplace homicides that occurred in the United States in 2004, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Says Dave Namura, government-relations manager for the Society for Human Resource Management: "These [pro-gun] laws place restrictions on an employer's ability to create a safe working environment."
Officers at some businesses have challenged the new laws in court. In 2004, ConocoPhillips Co. and Whirlpool Corp., among others, filed a suit in federal court seeking to overturn Oklahoma's law. But not all business leaders are up in arms. Charles Barton, finance manager of the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative in Norman, Okla., says his company's gun policy is pretty similar to what's in the new law. "As long as employees are carrying the guns legally in their vehicles," says Barton, "there's no objection."