Guns in the trunk: worker right or workplace danger?
NRA and employers square off over Oklahoma law that allows the practice.
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For their part, Mr. Smith and other ConocoPhillips employees in Oklahoma are supporting the NRA. "We are concerned about our rights, and very disturbed that the company is taking such steps," Smith says. In fact, there has been no violent incident involving a firearm at the Oklahoma refinery, he adds, even though "it's pretty common for guys to have weapons in their vehicles. That's just part of the culture here."Skip to next paragraph
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Shootings at refineries are not unheard of. In 1982, for instance, a man dismissed from his job at a Bridgeport, Texas, gasoline plant, returned with a rifle and killed his supervisor and wounded a co-worker, then died in a crash as he fled.
Although workplace homicides have declined dramatically in the past decade, weapons bans do appear to make workers safer, according to a recent study. Among hundreds of North Carolina companies surveyed, those that permitted guns to be brought to work saw a risk of homicide five times greater than companies that banned guns at work. "We saw a statistically significant increase in the chances of having a killing in any workplace that permitted guns," says Dana Loomis, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Oklahoma's debate over guns at work got its start in 2002, when Weyerhaeuser employees were fired for having left firearms locked in their vehicles outside the plant. The state legislature, in overwhelming support of the workers, banned companies from restricting workers' ability to carry legal firearms in their vehicles.
Almost a dozen companies, including ConocoPhillips, filed a federal lawsuit to block that law. It is still tied up in court, but Mr. LaPierre says three of the companies have backed out after NRA pressure: "I think they realized that they had gotten into a gun crusade that has nothing to do with their bottom line, shareholder value, or the mission of their companies."
ConocoPhillips has "an absolute duty to its shareholders to not back out," says Paul Finkelman, an expert in constitutional law at the University of Tulsa law school. "Employers have a right to restrict what their employees do on their premises." And they're still liable if someone is shot on their property, other legal experts note.
As recently as 1987, just six states had laws mandating that a gun owner be allowed a permit to carry a concealed weapon, says Ann Kaminstein, a lawyer and president of DV Initiative, a workplace- violence consulting firm in Concord, Mass. Today 33 states have such "shall-issue" laws, she says. And two, Alaska and Vermont, have no laws at all restricting concealed weapons.
The NRA's boycott against ConocoPhillips probably won't hurt the company much, experts say. Most of the gas stations carrying the company name are independently owned. But others say the end result could have a profound impact. "This kind of thing, if it became a trend, would definitely deter a lot of companies from adopting weapons-free policies," Ms. Kaminstein says.