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Guns in the trunk: worker right or workplace danger?

NRA and employers square off over Oklahoma law that allows the practice.

By Kris AxtmanStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / August 12, 2005



HOUSTON AND BOSTON

Jason Smith is in a tough spot. He works for a company he has been asked to boycott.

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In an effort to keep weapons out of the workplace, his employer, ConocoPhillips, is challenging state law and has forbidden workers to leave guns in their cars in company parking lots. Now, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is encouraging gun owners to stop buying ConocoPhillips gasoline.

The boycott is the latest skirmish in an expanding battle over gun control. Now that many states allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, the NRA is pushing to eliminate remaining restrictions on where those guns can be taken. Gun-control groups - and some employers - are fighting back. The outcome could decide whether more states expand the rights of licensed owners to carry their guns where they want, despite recent evidence that workplace gun bans do lower risk.

This issue is simmering in states across the country, says Stephen Halbrook, a Virginia lawyer who handles many Second Amendment cases. "But it is in brightest relief in Oklahoma."

That's because Oklahoma is one of only two states with statutes that specifically prohibit employers from banning weapons on their own property. (Kentucky is the other state.) ConocoPhillips and several other employers are challenging the 2003 Oklahoma law in federal court.

"ConocoPhillips supports the Second Amendment and respects the rights of law abiding citizens to own guns," the Houston-based oil company says in a written statement. "Our primary concern is the safety of all our employees. We are simply trying to provide a safe and secure working environment for our employees by keeping guns out of our facilities, including our company parking lots."

But gun-control opponents see the issue in constitutional terms.

"This case clearly goes to the very core of the freedom of Americans to own and travel with firearms in this country," says Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA. If companies successfully block the Oklahoma law, "it could be a blueprint for thousands of corporations across this country to declare their parking lots anti-Second Amendment zones, which could in effect gut 'carry' laws in 38 states and restrict hunters on every hunting trip." Conceivably, gun owners would have nowhere to get a sandwich or fill up with gas, he adds.

The NRA will soon have billboards up in 10 to 15 states where ConocoPhillips has major interests, he says. The billboards will read: "ConocoPhillips is No Friend of the Second Amendment."

The campaign is part of a larger NRA push to expand the rights of gun owners to carry their firearms wherever they want, warns Peter Hamm of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control group. He points to two bills backed by the NRA this past legislative session:

• In April, Arizona lawmakers passed a bill to allow concealed handguns in bars. Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed the bill, angering the NRA but pleasing many owners of restaurants and bars in that state.

• That same month, Florida lawmakers passed a bill significantly broadening the circumstances under which a person is allowed to shoot another in self defense.

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