Steve Chapman

Supporters of the right to keep and bear arms have long recognized the value of firearms for the defense of life, liberty and property. But in Florida, a perverse conception of the 2nd Amendment has produced the opposite effect: The cause of gun rights is being used to attack property rights.

In 1987, Florida wisely affirmed personal freedom by letting law-abiding citizens get permits to carry concealed weapons. But this year, the legislature decided it was not enough to let licensees pack in public places. They also should be allowed to take their guns into private venues -- even if the property owner objects.

The "take your guns to work" law says anyone with a conceal-carry permit has a legal right to keep his gun locked in his car in the company parking lot. Until recently, companies had the authority to make the rules on their own premises. But when it comes to guns, that freedom is defunct.

The National Rifle Association says any corporation that forbids firearms in its parking areas is violating the 2nd Amendment. That may sound like a promising argument, since the Supreme Court recently struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun ban as an infringement on the constitutional guarantee. It's not.

Robert Levy, the Cato Institute lawyer who participated in the successful challenge of the Washington ordinance, says the Florida law "has nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment." The Constitution, he notes, is a limit on government power, not a constraint on what private individuals or corporations may do.

A municipal government may not forbid guns to everyone on the territory under its control. But, as far as the Constitution is concerned, a private property owner certainly can.

A federal court recently upheld the law, but not because of the Bill of Rights. It said that "the constitutional right to bear arms restricts the actions of only the federal or state governments or their subdivisions, not private actors," and noted that the NRA "has been unable to cite any authority for its position."

So the law doesn't uphold gun rights. What it does do is infringe on property rights. The Florida Chamber of Commerce makes the obvious argument that there is no right "to have a gun in your car on someone else's property" (my emphasis). But the law tells company owners they have no control over workers who insist on bringing deadly weapons onto their premises.

Conceal-carry licensees complain that if they can't keep their guns in their cars, they will have no protection on their way to and from work. That's true. But what about employees who walk, bike or take the bus? Since the law doesn't give them the right to take their guns into the workplace, they have to leave them at home. Should the state force companies to let workers carry pistols into the factory, office or day-care center?

This is not a place where the government should substitute its judgment for that of the property owners. One lawyer told The Bradenton Herald, "I have clients that have to carry out terminations. Sometimes that termination is volatile. A lot of places have a policy where they walk the terminated employee to his car. What if you walk the guy to his car that has a gun? I wouldn't want to be that supervisor."

Given that crimes by permit holders are exceedingly rare, the employers who want to ban guns may be running from shadows. But decisions about their safety, and that of their customers and employees, should be theirs to make.

For some people, being temporarily deprived of a firearm creates great anxiety. But for those with a strong aversion to guns, working at a company that allows weapons in cars has the same effect. In a free society, both sets of employees can solve the problem with a simple expedient: exercising their liberty to find a company whose policies suit their preferences.

For the NRA to demand that guns be allowed in every company lot is just as oppressive as it would be for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence to insist they be prohibited in every company lot. When gun-rights advocates oppose the use of government power to suppress firearms, they are advancing freedom. When they use government power to dictate to private companies, they are harming it.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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