In Oklahoma, says state Representative Jerry Ellis, gun control is when you hit what you're aiming at. That's about the only gun control he believes in. Ellis is the sponsor of a state law guaranteeing that owners of firearms can bring them to their places of employment.
Ellis's bill was prompted last year when a paper mill fired a dozen employees for bringing weapons to work. The guns were left locked in their cars, but management was worried that having firearms so close at hand was an invitation for workplace disputes to escalate into violence. That sounds like a legitimate concern in a country that sees several hundred on-the-job homicides annually.
Not in Ellis's view, however. His main concern is the safety of suddenly disarmed employees. "All we're doing here is stopping law- abiding citizens from protecting themselves on their way to and from work," he says. Ellis's bill passed both houses of the Oklahoma legislature by overwhelming margins, but its implementation has been blocked by a federal lawsuit brought by major state employers, led by oil giant ConocoPhillips.
In response, the National Rifle Association has launched a nationwide boycott of ConocoPhillips. What's more, the NRA and other gun rights advocates are planning to introduce versions of Ellis's legislation in many other states--at least in all the states that allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, which is most of them.
Pro-gun activists often argue that the Second Amendment, with its guarantee of the right to bear arms, is as important a civil liberties cause as the free speech protections in the First Amendment. But Ellis seems to be arguing that it's more important. Even the most ardent free speech advocates would be unlikely to launch a crusade to protect the rights of workers to, for instance, tell their employers to go to hell. If they did, they wouldn't win the nearly unanimous support of a state legislature.
Businesses are generally allowed control over what takes place on the property they own. After smokers were, for the most part, kicked out of factories and offices, many employers soon forced them to step at least 50 or 100 feet away from their doors, so they wouldn't muss up the look of their entrances. Public opinion seemed all but unanimous that this was something companies had the legal authority to do. It's hard to see why guns in the workplace are any different.