The NRA Should Hold Its Fire

It would be easy to overlook the national boycott the National Rifle Assn. announced on Aug. 1 against ConocoPhillips (COP ) as a local squabble. The NRA is angry that the energy company, which operates a large refinery in Oklahoma, has sued to bar enforcement of a state law that allows workers to keep firearms in locked cars they park at work. But this conflict has implications far beyond the Panhandle State. The NRA championed the Oklahoma law after Weyerhaeuser Co. (WY ) in 2002 fired 12 workers at a mill there after discovering firearms in their vehicles on company property during a drug search. Now it has announced plans to push for similar laws nationwide guaranteeing workers the right to bring guns onto company parking lots. That doesn't bode well for the workplace: The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there were 632 workplace homicides in 2003, the latest year for which data are available.

To be sure, many of those killings were not committed with guns, and millions of American gun owners are law-abiding citizens who simply want to exercise their constitutional right to own a firearm. But employers -- whom courts repeatedly have held liable for the welfare of employees when on company property -- must also have the freedom to set rules to ensure their workers' safety while on their premises. Otherwise, all employees and shareholders could suffer should there be a shooting incident resulting in a court judgment that endangers a business financially.

Although no one should lightly entertain restricting anyone's rights, the NRA's boycott is understandable, but unwise. If businesses have the right to restrict workplace behavior in mundane areas such as smoking and appropriate on-the-job language and dress, they surely also must be allowed to take extraordinary measures to assure worker safety in potential matters of life and death.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.