Oklahoma City beheading: Will jihad-style attack boost 'bring gun to work' laws?

The Vaughan Foods officer who used his gun to stop a beheading attack by a fired employee is protected by a controversial law affirming the right to bring firearms to work. Twenty-two states have followed Oklahoma’s lead.

Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman/AP
Vaughan Foods President Mark Vaughan poses for a photo at the food processing plant, in Moore, Okla. Authorities said Friday, a man fired from an Oklahoma food processing plant beheaded a woman with a knife and then stabbed another worker on Thursday before being shot by Vaughan.

Vaughan Foods Chief Operating Officer Mark Vaughan, a reserve sheriff's deputy, used his personal handgun that he brings to work to stop a beheading attack by recently converted Muslim Alton Nolen on Friday in Oklahoma.

While police in Moore, Okla., have called Mr. Vaughan’s actions heroic, it’s also true that in some parts of the US he could have faced employer sanctions for bringing a gun to his job.

Oklahoma, however, is a pioneer in so-called “bring your gun to work” laws that have spread to 22 other states, mostly in the South and Midwest. The laws make it illegal for a firm to tell employees to leave their guns at home if they use a company parking lot. Some states, including Oklahoma, extend that protection into the workplace.

As the FBI began to investigate whether Mr. Nolen’s recent conversion to Islam played a role in the attack, the issue of guns at work took on new importance, at least for Americans who worry that lone-wolf Islamic jihadis in the US could take inspiration from gruesome beheading videos from the Middle East. Corporations have largely opposed “bring your gun to work” laws out of concerns that guns at work could instigate rather than defuse workplace violence.

“Americans should be ready to face these fanatics,” John Snyder, a gun law expert and lobbyist, says in a press release on Saturday. “As the Oklahoma [attack] indicates, people can stop terror attacks with firearms. Americans need their guns to defend life and freedom.”

A few days after being fired, Nolen killed Vaughan employee Colleen Hufford, whom he did not know, after crashing into a parked car and rushing into the building.

It’s not clear why Nolen had been fired, but women at the firm told police that Nolen had recently tried to get them to convert to Islam. Nolen’s Facebook page features Jihad-inspired rants, including ones calling Americans “wicked” and suggests that the Statue of Liberty “is going into flames.”

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a reformist movement within Islam, condemned the attack on Saturday. "We wholly reject this barbaric and inhumane act and we mourn with the victims,” said Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA National Vice President Dr. Nasim Rehmatullah, in a press release.

Moore Police Sgt. Jeremy Lewis told the Associated Press that Vaughan’s decision to carry a weapon to work made a big difference in the outcome of the attack. The situation “could have gotten a lot worse” if Vaughan didn’t have this gun, said Sgt. Lewis. "This was not going to stop if [Vaughan] didn't stop it."

So far, authorities have classified the beheading as a case of workplace violence, especially since it's not yet known whether Nolen was part of a terror network.

“Nolen does not, on first inspection, seem to have direct links to a terrorist organization,” writes Michael Daly, on the Daily Beast. But “he could imagine himself an Islamist avenger …”

In 2012, 375 workers were killed in shootings on the job, according to the US Labor Department, while there were just over 16,000 non-fatal incidents of workplace violence. A 2005 North Carolina-based study in the American Journal of Public Health found that workplaces where guns are allowed are about five times more likely to have a worker die on the job from a gunshot wound than places that don’t allow guns at work.

Given such statistics, it’s notable that similar guns-at-work bills have been rejected in 12 states, often due to pressure from corporations.

"Much like a private homeowner is able to tell his guests whether they can bring a gun into his yard, FedEx should have the right to decide what it will and will not allow on its private property," Mark Hogan, a vice president for security at FedEx Express told Tennessee lawmakers last year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Ultimately, Tennessee passed a law that allows workers to leave their guns in their car at work.

The National Rifle Association has put its considerable clout behind “guns at work” proposals, to the point where the organization has attacked politicians that are usually in good standing with the group for heeding corporate concerns about guns at work.

“Today we have seen in practice what so many have argued in theory. Today, Americans can once again be thankful for our right to bear arms,” Caleb Howe writes in a TruthRevolt story that was linked to the NRA’s legislative website on Saturday.

Police say Nolen barged into the Vaughan plant Friday and immediately attacked Ms. Hufford, and then a second woman, who was hurt but not critically. It was during the second attack that Vaughan shot Nolen, hitting him twice. The attacker survived, and will be charged as soon as his medical condition has stabilized.

Police also confirmed that Vaughan was acting as an individual and not on behalf of the local sheriff’s department when he fired his weapon. But the fact that Vaughan is a trained police officer may at least in part undercut the argument by gun proponents that everybody should have the right to bring their gun to work.

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