House Bill 171 did not make it out of committee this year in Virginia's legislature, but had it become law Virginia would have become another in the small but growing set of states that would prohibit employers from creating policies that stop gun owners from lawfully storing firearms in their car at work. These types of laws are generally called "parking lot" laws. Though they are often pushed by the NRA at the state level, the reaction to these efforts by gun owners in blogs and forums is usually luke-warm.
The thinking is usually along the following lines: employers have property rights and our individual gun rights do not trump them. This is empathy because nobody likes to be told what to do with their property. But is it really that simple? Don't rights bring responsibilities? If gun owners take on responsibilities to have their gun rights, don't property owners take on responsibilities to have their property rights?
I'm no legal theorist, but after a little digging it would seem the responsibilities of employers goes even further than responsibilities the employer may have from being a property owner. If you as a home-owning property owner allowed a visitor to be injured on your property, you could be held liable for it. The same is true for an employer. Additionally, an employer can be held liable for working conditions that have nothing to do with the property, things ranging from sexual harassment to carpal tunnel syndrome. Much of these liabilities stem from the Federal OSHA regulations and state-level equivalents of OSHA.
The Narrative is Wrong.
The other thing I discovered is that much of what people commonly think regarding workplace gun violence is just wrong. We've all heard the term "going postal", which comes from the series of US Post Office shootings that took place in the 80's and 90's. It maybe this single expression that gives the general public the idea that guns in the workplace might lead to coworkers shooting each other.
But the statistics don't prove it out. First, shootings account for a very small percentage of workplace fatalities, 8% according to the Bureau of Labor Statics. And of that small percentage, only 12% of those are classified as worker-on-worker violence.
Simply put, "going postal" is not a reasonable workplace concern. If it were, OSHA would likely have guidelines regarding guns in the workplace, which they don't -- a fact noted in by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Ramsey Winch, Inc. v. Henry and the US District Court of the Northern District of Florida in Florida Retail Federation, Inc. (see Legal Illustrations Of Workplace Gun Laws And Their Implications On Employers And Human Resource Managers, which is by no means a pro-gun document). Incidentally, both of these court cases were challenges to state parking lot laws.
So where does the narrative regarding co-worker violence, the premise for fighting parking lot laws, come from? While the "going postal" meme is certainly a bit of pop culture, it is likely that many employers and HR departments have armed themselves with faulty studies, which usually turns out to be the same study published twice. That study ignored critical factors as has been noted by the NRA-ILA.
The Real Story.
The truth about parking lot laws can probably be determined by looking at the Brady Campaign's own webpage on the subject, which shows that there are quite a few states that already have these laws: Idaho, Montana, Utah, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alaska, and Minnesota. And that list hasn't been shrinking; for the last five years it has been growing. Yet, workplace violence -- like violence in general in America -- has been decreasing.
The real story of parking lot laws will not likely be known for some time, but given all we know today it would appear that it follows the same trend line as other gun rights issues -- more guns, less crime.
Unrelated But Interesting.
The use of general duties to protect employees by employers under OSHA guidelines, as was the premise behind the challenge to Oklahoma's parking lot law, does not seem to be going away. Recently in Tennessee, a server at Jackson's Bar and Restaurant filed a complaint to overturn Tennessee's new restaurant carry law. The idea is so nifty, that an injury lawyer in Colorado thinks it should be the basis of a suit to overturn student concealed carry at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University. Fortunately for Tennesseans, Tennessee OHSA has rejected the complaint. And hopefully the Colorado ambulance chaser is just blowing smoke.