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Gun Laws Prompt Worries Among Employers
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Gun Laws Prompt Worries Among Employers

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Gun Laws Prompt Worries Among Employers

Gun Laws Prompt Worries Among Employers
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In several states across the country, recent laws have made it illegal for companies to prohibit guns in their parking lots. More states are considering these bills. That's made some employers worried about workplace safety — and liability.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Florida, some state lawmakers want to make sure that workers can bring guns to work, not into the building but into the parking lot. A couple of states already have laws that make it illegal to prohibit guns in parking lots. More are considering them. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, that has some employers worried about workplace safety and liability.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

To Florida Representative Dennis Baxley, this is a very simple issue.

State Representative DENNIS BAXLEY (Florida): We have smoking bans in the workplace here in Florida, but doesn't mean you can't have a pack of cigarettes in your car.

SHAPIRO: He's introducing a bill to the Florida Legislature that would ensure workers could keep guns in their locked cars regardless of company policies that might prohibit guns on workplace property. For Baxley, it's a question of safety for workers.

State Rep. BAXLEY: They may live as far as 50 miles away from work. They may be getting out on third shift in the middle of the night in what knows what part of town. They may be walking to a 20-acre parking lot out in the middle of the night.

SHAPIRO: He says it's irresponsible for companies to prevent workers from protecting themselves. Paul Viollis also sees this as a safety issue. He specializes in workplace violence at Risk Control Strategies, a consulting firm.

Mr. PAUL VIOLLIS (Risk Control Strategies): We have employers that clearly have a duty to provide a safe work environment, free of recognized hazards, and the pre-eminent hazard to the workplace, of course, is perpetrated by the use of a handgun. And yet, we have groups that are out there now trying to support allowing employees to bring loaded guns on the employer's property.

SHAPIRO: According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health at the Centers for Disease Control, or NIOSH, there are more than 10 workplace homicides a week nationally. The vast majority of those are committed with guns. Viollis says those homicides can be prevented, but having guns on workplace property makes it much more difficult.

Mr. VIOLLIS: There's a tremendous cooling-off period when someone has to leave the premises and drive home. In addition to that, once they leave the premises, it also provides the security for the particular employer to actually institute an outer perimeter security measure that would identify that individual if, in fact, they were to come back on the property.

SHAPIRO: Representative Baxley of Florida disputes Viollis' claim that most workplace violence is impulsive. He says if someone's going to shoot their co-workers, they'll plan it days or months in advance. NIOSH does not have authoritative statistics to prove which one of them is correct.

The first state to pass one of these laws was Oklahoma. A state lawmaker picked up the cause after some Weyerhaeuser employees were fired for having guns in their cars. Frank Mendizabal is a Weyerhaeuser spokesman.

Mr. FRANK MENDIZABAL (Spokesperson, Weyerhaeuser): That was a hard decision to make, but we have a zero tolerance on safety and, again, the primary goal for us is the safety of our employees. We would rather tell someone that they don't have a job than to tell a family that a loved one isn't coming home from work tonight.

SHAPIRO: After Oklahoma passed its bill, other states followed. Kentucky now has such a law and Utah is considering one. Minnesota's is caught up in appeals. Most of these laws specifically exempt employers from liability if an employee shoots someone on company property, but risk consultant Viollis says that exemption may only apply in state court.

Mr. VIOLLIS: What I don't understand is how does a state legislature offer immunity when the case is going to be filed in federal court.

SHAPIRO: Weyerhaeuser, for example, does business in 42 states. The company is concerned that it'll be held liable in federal court if someone gets shot on Weyerhaeuser property. But, they say, they're more concerned with preventing violence from happening in the first place. Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

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