Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tennessee Clarifies Guns at Work

According to FoxNews, the Tennessee legislature made some changes in 2015 to their "Guns in Parking Lots Statute." According to The Tennessean, Governor Haslam signed that law in April.

Fox reports that a law was signed by Governor Haslam in 2013, allowing Tennesseans with gun permits to keep their weapons in their vehicles at work "even if the employer bars them." That law was interpreted by Tennessee's Attorney General as a legislative preclusion of criminal prosecution for possession, but not an employment protection. In other words, an employee could not be arrested for having a gun in her or his car at work, but they could be legally fired for it. 

In 2015, the legislature passed a provision that says:

"No employer shall discharge or take any adverse employment action against an employee solely for transporting or storing a firearm or firearms ammunition in an employer parking area."

The Fox article notes that most employers would not know of guns secreted in vehicles at work. It is estimated that about 500,000 Tennesseans have permits for firearms. But there was apparently concern that in some instance of vehicle vandalism or a drug sweep or an admission by an employee possession might be brought to the employer's attention, and that employment action against the employee might ensue. 

Tennessee's adoption was not unanimous. One member of the House leadership quoted by Fox characterized the new Tennessee law as "outrageous," noting that "business are now forced to allow people with weapons on their private property. The State Chamber of Commerce also opposed the law on the grounds that it "violates personal property rights" of the employers and it predicted that the law would be "costly to defend in court."

Fox notes that "nearly 20 states" have adopted similar laws. 

Florida has a law regarding weapons in locked vehicles. It is 790.251 (2008), which says:

  (a) No public or private employer may prohibit any customer, employee, or invitee from possessing any legally owned firearm when such firearm is lawfully possessed and locked inside or locked to a private motor vehicle in a parking lot and when the customer, employee, or invitee is lawfully in such area.
  (b) No public or private employer may violate the privacy rights of a customer, employee, or invitee by verbal or written inquiry regarding the presence of a firearm inside or locked to a private motor vehicle in a parking lot or by an actual search of a private motor vehicle in a parking lot to ascertain the presence of a firearm within the vehicle. Further, no public or private employer may take any action against a customer, employee, or invitee based upon verbal or written statements of any party concerning possession of a firearm stored inside a private motor vehicle in a parking lot for lawful purposes. A search of a private motor vehicle in the parking lot of a public or private employer to ascertain the presence of a firearm within the vehicle may only be conducted by on-duty law enforcement personnel, based upon due process and must comply with constitutional protections.

The Wall Street Journal in 2013 said that "22 states have passed laws that limit property owners' ability to ban firearms in vehicles in parking areas." Some address specific employment, other laws are more comprehensive. According to an info-graphic in that 2013 story, the 22 states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Utah. Since Tennessee was included in the 2013 listing, despite the then narrow interpretation of that state's law, it may be fair to say that the extent to which these states' individual laws apply may not be identical. 

There is debate still. Competing interests often bring interesting questions for courts. This one is a conflict between an individual's right to keep and bear arms and another person or company's rights to control his/her/its property. The Journal reports that in 2012 "375 workers were killed in shootings on the job" and that employers assert this "guns in parking lots" debate is a safety issue.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website breaks down the details of work-related shootings. Its analysis is based on averages for the period 2004-08, without explanation of why more recent data is not included. Over that period, BLS says that the average of "work-related" homicides was 564, and shootings accounted for 80% of those homicides. It may be interesting that the phrase used is "work-related" instead of "work-place." It is possible that the statistics include instances where violence occurred other than "at work," but nonetheless related to work. 

Violence at the work place, however, is perhaps the focus of the safety issue related to the gun possession laws discussed above. The BLS homicide total accounted for about "10 percent of all fatal work injuries" in 2008. So not all all work-related death is homicide and not all work-related homicide is gun-related.

In 2008, "robbers and other assailants made up 72 percent of assailants for men and 51 percent of assailants for women." It appears that assault by persons known to the victims is lower; "relatives and other personal acquaintances accounted for only 4 percent of assailants for homicides for men, but 28 percent for women." In 2008, only 12% of the shootings involved "co-workers and former co-workers" as assailants. 

To break that down, there were 564 homicides in 2008, of which 80% were shootings. So, 451 shootings in 2008 resulted in work-related death. Twelve percent of that total equates to 54 shootings that involved "co-workers and former co-workers." Because this total includes "former co-workers" it is not clear that all 54 shootings would be related to possession of a firearm in a locked vehicle at the work-place; some may have involved a weapon specifically brought to that place for violence by a former employee. 

Some might conclude that the guns in parking lots might nonetheless affect/decrease this 54 shootings. There is no breakdown regarding how many of these 54 shootings in 2008 occurred in the 22 states that allow gun possession in parking lots compared to the states which do not specifically protect that possession. Does possession of legal firearms in the parking lot make fatal work-related shooting more likely?

The debate over gun possession is likely not over. Tennessee has passed legislation to clarify in 2015. Twenty-two states have legislated in some manner. It will be a subject that will inspire continued conversations and perspectives. 

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