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There are now 22 states that allow employees to leave guns in their cars at the office parking lot. The most recent states to approve such measures include North Carolina, Tennessee and Missouri. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports these laws leave employers debating how best to ensure safety at work.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: After Georgia passed a law allowing employees to keep firearms in their employers' parking lots, Sally Roberts installed this sign on her newspaper firm's door saying no weapons allowed. Roberts is human resources director at Morris Communications. She says a job candidate once threatened her.
SALLY ROBERTS: She did become violent, and I am very thankful she did not have a weapon.
NOGUCHI: Roberts's fears are not baseless.
(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)
UNIDENTIFIED MANAGER: Oh, [bleep]. He's still shooting. I hear guns out there.
DISPATCHER: All right. Did he used to work there?
UNIDENTIFIED MANAGER: Yeah, 'til - I just fired him.
UNIDENTIFIED MANAGER: Today - just now before he started shooting. He's chasing people...
NOGUCHI: That's the 911 call from a manager at Hartford Distributors in Connecticut. In 2010, Omar Thornton carried a gun into the office and killed eight colleagues then himself.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an average of more than 700 people a year are killed in workplace homicides - most by firearms. A 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management showed more than a third of employers reported violent incidents at work. Private employers used to create their own rules about guns on their property. But in 2004, Oklahoma changed its law so private employers could no longer ban storage of firearms in locked vehicles at work. In the legal fight that followed, the Court of Appeals sided with the gun owners and the National Rifle Association, and more states adopted these so-called parking lot laws.
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: We completely respect the rights of private businesses to restrict the people who are carrying guns into the workplace. But we believe that's bad policy.
NOGUCHI: That's Kevin Michalowski of Concealed Carry Magazine based in Wisconsin which has a parking lot law. He believes businesses would be safer and face less liability if they permitted firearms beyond the parking lot. Michalowski's own brother tried to rob a restaurant in Arizona in 1998 and opened fire.
MICHALOWSKI: He fired two rounds and was shot by an off-duty police officer who happened to have his weapon with him. My brother was struck three times. And it immediately ended the threat that he was causing to those innocent people.
NOGUCHI: Michalowski, who carries a firearm to work, to stores and his kid's school, argues a no guns allowed sign makes workers more vulnerable.
MICHALOWSKI: Now all of your employees are targets. They're sitting ducks. They have no way to defend themselves.
NOGUCHI: There's no consistent trend in workplace homicides among those states that have adopted parking lot laws versus those who have not. But nationally, over the last decade, office killings have declined. John Heisse acknowledges the desire for self-defense.
JOHN HEISSE: I understand the feeling of helplessness that one will have when you're essentially facing someone with a gun and there's no way to defend yourself against that.
NOGUCHI: Heisse was an attorney working in a high-rise at 101 California Street in San Francisco in 1993 when failed businessman Gian Luigi Ferri opened fire, killing eight people before turning the gun on himself. Some of the victims included Heisse's colleagues.
HEISSE: What I wasn't prepared for was walking through the aftermath of an event like that and stepping over the body of a young law student that I had hired to work for me for the summer.
NOGUCHI: Heisse says neither he nor other survivors of that tragedy believe an employee's gun could have stopped the carnage.
HEISSE: You know, these scene don't play out like they do in the movies. They're incredibly stressful. To think that the untrained, inexperienced person in that stressful situation will make all the right decisions is, I think, foolish.
NOGUCHI: Heisse is now on the board of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group started after the 101 California Street shootings. Not all employers believe guns in parking lots are necessarily harmful but want to protect the business owner's right to choose.
Jim Nys runs a staffing consultant agency in Montana which he calls a very pro-gun state. He says he has no problem with an employee keeping a gun in the car but wants it to stay there. Years ago, when he worked in government, he says an angry employee who was denied benefits came armed to work.
JIM NYS: He brought a weapon with him and waited on the desk while they wanted to discuss why they had been denied.
NOGUCHI: So on balance, Nys says, he feels like he's keeping his workers safer by not allowing guns into the office. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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