It's every employer's nightmare. A year ago, Edgar Tillery was told by his supervisor at the Indiana Workforce Development Dept. that his performance as an auditor was subpar, and that he should shape up or consider resigning. His response? He went outside to his parked car, grabbed a gun, and came back firing, court documents say.
Luckily the weapon jammed, and no one was hurt. Tillery is now serving a 15-year prison sentence. Business groups seized on the incident as an example of why companies should have the right to forbid employees from having firearms stowed in their vehicles while at work. Barely two weeks after the shooting, however, Governor Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) signed into law a measure that does the opposite—bans employers from telling workers that they can't have guns in their cars.
Indiana is now one of 13 states that grant such rights to employees. The spread of "parking lot" or "bring your gun to work" laws stems in part from the landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling that struck down Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban. Surprisingly, the January shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is also playing a role. Of 37 bills introduced in 16 state legislatures this year involving guns on company property, 33 came after the Tucson attack, says the Legal Community Against Violence, a public-interest law center in San Francisco. Gun rights activists, fearing a backlash, are pushing for broader rights, says Ladd Everitt, a spokesman with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a Washington advocacy group. "People see an incident like this and they think, 'They're going to take our guns. We better get every law we can,'" says Everitt.
The trend is alarming some companies and business groups as policies designed to ensure safe workplaces clash with the Second Amendment—and increase employers' potential liability. Forest products company Weyerhaeuser (WY) bans guns on company property and has fired workers for carrying hunting rifles in their cars. The company stands by its policy, which is at odds with six state laws giving employees the right to keep guns in vehicles. "The main concern is the safety of our employees, not guns," says spokesman Bruce Amundson. The employee gun rights movement "is misguided," says George Raymond, vice-president for human resources and labor relations at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. "We might have shootouts in the parking lots like it's the O.K. Corral."
Now employers fear the gun lobby will push through bills that let employees bring guns into the office. The Tennessee legislature in March adopted a bill, awaiting Republican Governor Bill Haslam's signature, declaring handguns on company property, which could include the office, are not hazardous to workers. What little research data exist on the issue say otherwise: Workplaces that allowed guns were about five times more likely to experience a homicide as those where all weapons were banned, concludes a May 2005 report in the American Journal of Public Health that analyzed North Carolina employers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says workplace shootings caused 420 deaths in 2009 and 421 in 2008.
Measures proposed this year in Indiana and North Dakota and championed by the National Rifle Assn. would allow workers to sue their employers for even asking about firearms in vehicles. Gun rights advocates say the bills are necessary to penalize businesses that don't comply with the law. "This is spelled out in our Constitution," says Indiana Senator Johnny Nugent, a Republican from Lawrenceburg who serves on the NRA board of directors and authored the pending Indiana bill. "People have a right to defend themselves."
The bottom line: State measures letting employees have guns on company property are a surprising outgrowth of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting.