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Battle Over Gun Rights Moves Into Workplace

August 5, 2008
Winning, as Richard Nixon once demonstrated, makes some people resentful.

No sooner is such a person victorious than he’s looking not to celebrate, but to audit the tax returns of the loser and all of the loser’s friends.

The National Rifle Association seems like that kind of winner.

The NRA won big in June with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller. In a 5-4 decision, the court found for the first time in its history that the Second Amendment confers an individual’s right to own firearms. It tossed out D.C.’s 1976 ban on handgun ownership, but said that some restrictions on gun possession may be permitted.

The NRA applauded, but good cheer isn’t really what it does. Instead, it reacted to the win mainly with renewed expressions of outrage. It attacked anti-gun politicians and gun control advocates who criticized the ruling, saying they suffer from "anti-gun anxiety," a condition that does not affect "normal people."

It also filed lawsuits against San Francisco, Chicago and three Chicago suburbs to overturn gun bans similar to D.C.’s.

None of this is good news for employers: It suggests that the gun lobby will continue pushing for laws allowing any of us to carry any firearm anywhere, including to work.

Since 2005, the NRA and other gun advocacy groups have campaigned for state legislation to restrict employers’ rights to ban firearms on their property. The battle, pitting gun owners’ rights against the property rights of businesses, has been fought mainly over parking lots.

In July, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an NRA-backed bill that gives workers the right to keep legal guns in locked cars in their employers’ parking lots. A similar law went into effect in Florida on July 1, while Georgia enacted a law that requires employers’ permission for parking-lot gun storage.

These states are the latest of several—including Alaska, Kentucky and Oklahoma—to enact parking-lot gun bills. (The latest laws come only weeks after a worker at a Henderson, Kentucky, company killed five co-workers and himself with a pistol he retrieved from his car after quarreling with a supervisor. Gun advocates seem to view incidents like this as natural disturbances that have nothing to do with the proximity of a gun.)

This isn’t to say gun lobbyists are undefeated. Several other states have rejected parking-lot gun bills. A federal court in Oklahoma blocked that state’s law after finding that it was trumped by federal law requiring employers to maintain safe workplaces; that ruling is now on appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Still, the NRA and its allies aren’t letting up. Soon after the Heller decision—and as Georgia’s new gun law went into effect—Georgia state Rep. Tim Bearden announced that he would pack a handgun when picking up visitors at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport; a gun rights group simultaneously sued to block officials from arresting anyone carrying a legal firearm in the airport’s nonsecured areas.

Putting aside what kind of visitors prompt Bearden to carry a loaded weapon, isn’t this getting a little ridiculous? If we’re going to allow people to carry guns anywhere, do we all get Kevlar vests?

The fact is, the ruling has made meaningless the NRA’s longtime slogan "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."

Guns can’t be outlawed; the high court just said so. Wouldn’t it be nice, then, if we could talk about some reasonable restrictions on gun possession?

Justice Antonin Scalia left room for this in his majority opinion: "The Second Amendment is not unlimited," he wrote. "It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon … in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."

He also noted that the ruling should not "cast doubt" on prohibitions against gun possession by felons or laws forbidding guns in "sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

He didn’t mention workplaces, unfortunately. He should have.