Parking Lot Gun Laws and the Right to Transport Firearms

Posted on February 15, 2006

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Should people who lawfully possess firearms be able to leave them locked in their motor vehicles, on business property? Common sense would say, "yes." All 50 states allow the transportation of firearms in motor vehicles for all lawful purposes and 48 states allow the carrying of firearms in vehicles for personal protection, in some manner.1 More than one of every four of America`s 65-80 million gun owners carries a firearm in his or her vehicle for protection.2

The U.S. Constitution and the constitutions of 46 states protect the right to arms and/or self-defense.3 And since 1986, federal law has protected the right to transport firearms in vehicles interstate.4

However, over the last few years disagreements over the right of people to leave firearms locked in their vehicles on business property have arisen. As a result, five state legislatures have passed, and during their current legislative sessions additional states are considering passing, laws to protect that right.5

The issue began in 2002 in Oklahoma, when the Weyerhaeuser corporation fired employees for having guns in personal vehicles on company property. The Oklahoma Legislature responded, unanimously in the House and by a vote of 92-4 in the Senate, by prohibiting "any policy or rule" prohibiting law-abiding people "from transporting and storing firearms in a locked vehicle."

Arguments raised against the right of people, particularly employees, to leave firearms in locked vehicles on business property are unconvincing:

  • A business owner`s private property rights are not affected by a law preventing the micro-management of the lawful contents of a person`s privately-owned automobile. Moreover, an employer`s private property interests do not trump a person`s right to have a firearm available for self-defense, if needed, during the daily commute to and from work. As with all civil rights, employers and owners of commercial property may not act with disregard to the rights of citizens. Reasonable accommodation is the foundation of the protection of all civil rights.
  • A commercial landowner is subject to numerous limits, imposed by the federal, state and local governments, on what may and may not occur on its property.
  • Employees have a legitimate private property interest where their automobiles and their contents are concerned. In our legal system, property rights extend to property other than land.
  • Most gun-related violent crimes in workplaces are committed by non-employees. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 84% of all workplace murders are committed by strangers; 7% are committed by current or former employees.6 Naturally, strangers and former employees are not bound by any company policy pertaining to employees.
  • Anyone determined to commit a violent crime will not be prevented from doing so by a mere company policy against having guns in cars. This should go without saying, since criminals are already willing to break laws against murder, rape, robbery and assault.
  • Laws protecting the right to leave firearms in locked motor vehicles do not authorize a person to have a firearm outside his or her vehicle.
  • Laws protecting the right to leave firearms in locked motor vehicles on business property specifically protect the property owner from liability for any related injuries or damages. Also, if a business prohibits people from possessing the means to defend themselves in their vehicles, it is potentially liable for injuries and damages incurred for failure to provide adequate security.
  • The problem of workplace crimes has been exaggerated. The nation`s violent crime rate has declined every year since 1991 and is now at a 30-year low, the murder rate is at a 39-year low, and workplace violent crime has decreased more than violent crime generally. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says, "the circumstances of workplace homicides differ substantially from those portrayed by the media and from homicides in the general population."7

Notes:

1. Only Illinois and Wisconsin do not have such laws.

2. USA Today/CNN/Gallup National Poll, Dec. 17-19, 1993.

3. The constitutions of the United States and all states except California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York protect the right to possess firearms for protection, recreation, sports, hunting, and other lawful purposes. Iowa and New Jersey`s constitutions protect the right to self-defense in general terms.

4. 18 U.S.C. sec. 926A.

5. In 1998, Kentucky`s Attorney General determined that state law prohibits employers from prohibiting people from having firearms in their vehicles. Minnesota`s Right-to-Carry law (2003) prohibits employers from prohibiting carry permit holders from having firearms in their vehicles. Laws protecting the right of any lawful possessor of a firearm to have a firearm in a personally-owned vehicle were passed in Oklahoma and Alaska in 2005, and Mississippi in 2006.

6. "Violence in the Workplace, 1993-1999," Dec. 2001 (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/vw99.pdf). The study also noted, the highest percentage of work-related murders occur between 8p.m.-12 a.m., when most businesses are closed.

7. "Violence in the Workplace," July 1996 (www.cdc.gov/niosh/violhomi.html).

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