Dayna B. Royal, Take Your Gun to Work and Leave It in The Parking Lot: Why The OSH Act Does Not Preempt State Guns-At-Work Laws

61 Fla. L. Rev. 475 (2009) | | | |

INTRODUCTION :: Two robbers entered an Alabama restaurant and forced customers and employees into a walk-in refrigerator at gunpoint. Fortunately, one of the customers, legally armed with his own pistol, shot the robbers before any hostage was injured. In New York City, a fifty-six year-old woman in a wheelchair was attacked while leaving her apartment. She shot her attacker, ending the attack, with a loaded gun she was carrying in violation of local gun-control laws. In Texas, a man drove his pickup truck through the glass doors of a crowded Texas restaurant, pulled out two semi-automatic pistols, and opened fire. He continued shooting for ten minutes, giving hostages ample time to return fire, especially since his pistol jammed many times. But, Texas law forbade private citizens from carrying firearms out of their homes or businesses, and the restaurant forbade employees from carrying firearms at work. Twenty-three innocent people died.

Gun proponents cite anecdotes like these when arguing for the safety benefits of firearms and the need for fewer firearm controls. But gun opponents have their own stories. In Henderson, Kentucky, a plastics plant worker shot and killed five co-workers before killing himself. He became upset after his supervisor reprimanded him for using a cell phone and failing to wear safety goggles. That supervisor lost his life. In New York, a distraught executive summoned two employees to his office, shot them to death, and killed himself with a gun he kept nearby.

Amid this debate, many states have enacted laws to protect individuals’ rights to store guns in their vehicles while at work. These laws take various forms, but all limit an employer’s ability to prevent employees from storing guns in their vehicles on employer property.


These laws provide a litmus test for the gun debate. Supporters argue that such laws are necessary for employee self-defense since many licensed gun owners store their guns in their cars for protection as they commute through dangerous neighborhoods. According to this position, “[h]ard-working men and women are not immune from criminals in their employers’ parking lots. Nor are they impervious to carjackers, robbers or rapists during their commute or as they run errands before or after work.” Employees working the graveyard shift deserve a means of self-defense too.

Opponents argue these laws instead decrease worker morale and safety by increasing the proximity to guns that can too easily turn a disagreement deadly. If employees have immediate access to guns, they argue, supervisors will not feel comfortable disciplining employees for fear of violent retaliation. Moreover, employees will work in fear that a loose cannon may “go postal.”

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