Many companies, if not most companies, including my own, have a prohibition against possession of firearms by employees on company property.
But in 2008, the Florida Legislature in its infinite wisdom passed a law called the Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act, commonly known as the Guns At Work law. In a nutshell, the law states that persons with a concealed weapons permit may keep weapons in their vehicles while at work.
The law was heavily pushed by the NRA, specifically by Marion Hammer, who is a Florida lobbyist and past president (and first female president) of the NRA. Opposed were the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation, Disney, and Wal-Mart, all of whom are powerful interests. That being the case, I’m surprised the law passed. It’s also a sign that hell has frozen over when I’m on the same side as Wal-Mart. Actually, I have mixed feelings about the law. But frankly speaking, as an employer, I don’t ever want to be concerned that I may piss off some employee who goes to his car at lunch and pulls out a weapon. I already go out of my way to be respectful, even if I have bad news (like “You’re fired”) but that’s good practice anyway.
On Monday, I learned the following information about an employee who had been with us for less than a month: he was feeling discriminated against; he’d been admitted for inpatient psychiatric treatment twice last year; and he had a handgun in his truck. Which he pulled out and displayed to a security guard at my workplace. It wasn’t so much that he had the gun, it was the context. My boss, who operates in another city but was in town, said, “He has to go” and volunteered to handle it so as to take the focus off me and my second-in-command person, who was the true target of this person’s paranoia.
I insisted on calling the police to be present. My boss said he didn’t think that was necessary. I insisted some more, and whined, so he finally agreed to humor me. From the minute I called the police, it was clear that they took the situation very seriously, perhaps in part because the security guard was so specific about the weapon…I was able to tell them it was a Taurus .357 Magnum. So this was not a fantasy, we think he may have a gun. It was, he has a gun and this is what kind.
Two officers showed up, one of whom was wearing his bulletproof vest outside his shirt. That is a very fearsome and intimidating sight.
My boss planned to tell the employee that since he was in his 90-day probationary period, it just wasn’t working out. I lobbied for telling him we knew he had a gun, but I was overruled both by the boss and by the police. Much of what I know now I learned since this incident, and the main thing is that the operative word in the law is “concealed”. Assuming he had a concealed weapons permit, it is a violation of the law to take it out of concealment for any reason except to use it, and that has to be guided by strict definitions of self-defense.
In any case, my boss delivered the news with no mention of the gun. The employee handed his keys to me. Then he asked me to go with him to a storeroom where he had some personal items. The police said, “No. She can’t go. We’ll go.” My boss went too. Once in the storeroom, the employee pulled a knife from his pocket which he intended to use to cut some twist ties, but who knew that? That by itself tells me what poor judgement the guy had. Had it been me, faced with two armed police officers, I would have asked permission to pull my driver’s license out of my wallet.
Apparently the reaction was swift. My boss said the next thing he knew, one of the officers pushed him out of the way and said “Stay behind me.” The two officers arranged themselves in an L-shaped formation, to prevent crossfire, and my boss said he heard a sound he’ll probably be hearing in his dreams for some time to come–the sound of both officers simultaneously unsnapping their holsters.
In the end, the guy left peacefully and everyone was safe. But it could have been otherwise.
Oddly enough, the same day this happened, Timothy Egan of the NY Times posted an entry on his blog called The Guns of Spring. http://egan.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/the-guns-of-spring/?ref=opinion Here’s a quote:
“If it was peanut butter or pistachio nuts taking down people by the dozens every week, we’d be all over it. Witness the recent recalls. But Glocks and AKs — can’t touch ‘em. So we’re awash in guns: 280 million.” I don’t know the answer. There is something to the NRA slogan, “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” And yet, Egan notes that he lost a nephew to gun violence and can’t help but take it personally. This week, it became personal to me.