Over the last several months, it is harder to determine which is more frequent – incessant news headlines concerning the latest workplace or school massacre involving easy access to guns, or yet another state that has come out in overwhelming support of those who wish to take their weapons to work, over the cautions proposed by a varied array of employers voicing safety concerns. As my partner Dan Handman observed in his excellent article on gun laws in the United States [link], workplace homicides are at least three times as likely to occur in those workplaces where guns are permitted on employer premises; yet, state legislative activity continues in support of “parking lot” laws, culminating at the end of 2012 with 17 states allowing for at least some right to possess a weapon on employer premises.
Make that 18 states. Last Thursday, Tennessee was the latest to declare that state residents who hold handgun carry permits will be able to take those handguns to work as long as they are kept locked in their cars on the employer’s premises. This “safe commute” bill (more accurately described as the “guns in trunks” law) overcame the lobbying of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and large employers, including Volkswagen. This is a direct reversal of prior law that permitted any public or private employer to prohibit possession of weapons, including guns locked in vehicles, anywhere on their property.
Republican state representative Jeremy Faison, sponsor of the legislation, explained that “the least we can do is allow them [the “400,000 law-abiding citizens” who have obtained handgun carry permits] to keep this gun locked in their car as they go to work and carry on their daily lives in the state of Tennessee.” This reasoning conjures up images of highway shoot-outs, with well-armed residents defending themselves against bandits preying upon otherwise vulnerable commuters simply trying to get to their jobs.
But while the image may invoke a sad, bemused chuckle, the realities – and limitations – of guns in the workplace as a security tool are all too apparent. As part of my workplace violence prevention/threat management work, I have had the unwelcome task of being brought in by an employer, post-homicide, to review forensic investigations. All too often, during the crisis, a well-intentioned employee, caught up in the mayhem of an active shooter, has taken that permitted gun from their vehicle and drawn down on the murderous individual, letting loose several rounds. Sadly, however, these understandably frantic efforts are rarely successful in stopping an individual who has moved from “troubled” to “troubling,” who over a significant amount of time has traveled down the pathway to ultimate violence; far more often than not, that well-meaning gun owner becomes another victim of that horrifying ordeal.
If only these states would invest the same legislative initiative and effort into workplace violence prevention educational mandates, and enhanced mental health programs, we would be able to make true progress against the plague of workplace and campus violence. If only…