A reader writes:
I have been hesitating writing in on this, because I know it will boggle the minds of many of your international readers, and I’m sure I’ll be filleted in the comments, but I genuinely would like to ask someone objective.
I have a concealed carry permit that permits me to carry a concealed firearm anywhere it’s legal. I live in a city with a very high violent crime rate, I am often either working late or coming in early (sometimes the last one in and/or out of the office, and I live by myself (all my family members are several states away). When I carry the pistol, all safeties are active, I never touch it/play with it/mess with it during the day, and I wear clothing such that people don’t even know I have a firearm (even family and friends, who know I carry, can’t tell when I’m carrying and when I’m not). I practice weekly and attend training classes regularly. I view my pistol as akin to a seat belt – everyday I put it on and pray I never need it, but if I need it, I’m glad I have it.
According to state statutes, it is legal to carry in my building (default in my state is that it’s legal unless otherwise posted, with a few exceptions). Assorted employee handbooks and guides at my company make absolutely no mention of guns (though this could be due more to oversight than deliberation, since my company is fairly small). Although some people at my office are aware of my interest in firearms (I have a local range’s bumpersticker on my car), no one at the office knows I carry.
In conversation with family recently, my mother, who has been fairly supportive of my efforts to get my permit and continued training, was horrified that I carry in my office. My reasoning — that it does me no good to leave it locked in a safe in my car (and that it’s more secure on me than in my car), that no one will find out unless they are touching me somewhere they shouldn’t be touching me anyway, and that I’m not going to start shooting people — does not sway her at all. Her rock hard stance that my firearm should be left in the car (which puts me back in the same position of being in the office and walking to my car alone) has led me to doubt myself. I did not make the decision to carry a firearm lightly, especially at work, but I am curious – would you, as a manager, consider this a fireable offense (when there is no policy or anything like that against it)? Do you think it’s unethical of me to carry in the office without telling my employer?
Well, I’d be pissed as hell if I found out that one of my employees was bringing a gun to work every day and hadn’t bothered to mention it to me. So I think you should talk to your employer and see where they stand on this.
That said, it turns out that what I think is at odds with what the law requires in most states that allow concealed weapons. I ran your question by my father-in-law, a former Secret Service agent who now does security consulting (and yes, I do often wish for a Robert De Niro/Meet the Parents-style lie detector situation), and he told me something I never would have guessed: In nearly all states that allow concealed gun carrying, if an employer wants to prohibit employees from bringing guns into the workplace, they have to post clear notices to that effect throughout their workplace (and in some cases, these notices must contain specific language defined by law). So they can ban it, but the notification requirements are higher than most people would probably expect — i.e., a no-guns policy in the handbook isn’t enough, and neither is a “Hey, Jane, stop bringing your gun to work” conversation. (You can read more on this here and here.)
In any case, here’s what concerns me about you bringing your gun to work, regardless of the law: From an ethical and philosophical standpoint, I think that your employer should get to make the call on whether there are guns in their workplace — just like I think people should get to make the call on whether there are guns in their home. I get that the law says otherwise, but I think it should be their call anyway.
Furthermore, if the fact that you’re carrying a gun at work comes out at some point, I think it’s going to be a pretty incendiary issue in your office. Your coworkers are likely to feel that they had a right to know they’ve been working near a deadly weapon every day.
And last, while you sound like a wholly responsible gun owner, that doesn’t change the fact that you (presumably) don’t have years of experience in dealing with hostile situations and the effects of adrenaline. If something causes you to fire your gun in or around your workplace and adrenaline makes you miss and hit someone else … well, I think your employer deserves to be part of that risk calculation, rather than you making it on your own.
Now, I freely admit that these views are heavily colored by my own personal stance on guns. (I happen to be fairly libertarian on gun policy, but don’t particularly want them around me while I work.) And they’re apparently at odds with what the law is likely to be in your state.
But ultimately, I think it comes down to this: In choosing not to tell your employer, you’re denying them the ability to have a say in something I think impacts them. (Of course, you’re also lowering the chances that they’ll forbid you from carrying it and post any required signs in order to make that edict legally compliant.) But I advocate erring on the side of transparency when you’re in doubt on something affects others, and so I vote for transparency here as well.
Note: I know this issue is a heated one, so I’m requesting that we refrain from a debate on gun laws in the comment section — where each side of the issue is highly unlikely to convince the other side — and instead stay focused on the question posed here by the letter-writer.