State House says yes to guns at work
March 27, 2008
Florida residents could pack guns along with their briefcases as part of their workday routine, under a controversial measure endorsed by the Florida House on Wednesday.
With little debate, the House gave the gun lobby a major victory by passing a bill allowing employees to take their guns to work, as long as the owner has a permit and the weapon is locked in a car.
The guns-at-work bill forced the Legislature's Republican leaders to choose between two core constitutional principles: the right to bear arms and private-property rights. Each is advocated by powerful and deep-pocketed interests: gun groups and big business.
The bill (HB 503) passed on a largely party-line 72-42 vote, despite a last-minute appeal from business groups that called it an attack on their ability to regulate the workplace. The National Rifle Association is promoting similar legislation in every state, and Florida would be the fifth to pass it.
In a sign Republican leaders are looking to get past this divisive fight in an election year, the bill was amended and passed with little debate, in well under an hour. A handful of Republicans voted against it.
"We believe strongly of property rights. We believe strongly in Second Amendment rights," said Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, a lead negotiator on the bill. "Neither side got everything they wanted. That's probably the reflection of a good compromise."
Democrats mocked the notion that having guns at the workplace is necessary for self-protection and predicted the courts likely would strike it down. Still, underscoring the political sensitivity of the subject in an election year, even the minority party decided against a public debate. Three Democrats voted for it.
"This was the most boneheaded bill we'll pass this session," Rep. Mary Brandenburg, D-West Palm Beach, said afterward. " . . . It's beyond belief to think it's essential to have guns at work."
The bill prohibits employers from banning guns on their premises, as long as the employees and customers who bring weapons to work have a permit and leave the guns locked in their cars. However, an employer has no way of knowing who has a concealed-weapons permit, since the Legislature has shielded those records from public view.
Certain workplaces can still ban guns, such as nuclear-power plants, public hospitals, schools and jails.
Two Senate committees have endorsed similar legislation; a floor vote in that chamber could come as early as next week. The Senate's version, though, doesn't require that employees have a weapons permit to bring their guns to work, significantly broadening the bill's scope.
While the House vote was a rare public defeat for the business lobby, unions lauded the idea. "This is a victory for everyone, because it sends the message that businesses can't just carve out islands and tell you what your rights are," said Rich Templin, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO.
Business groups suggested legislators were bending to the gun lobby's "constant political threats."
"Attempts to water down constitutional property rights . . . in favor of gun-owner rights can only be viewed as an attack on the business community and the jobs it creates and sustains," read a letter sent to House members by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Retail Federation and Associated Industries of Florida.
Oklahoma, Alaska, Kentucky and Mississippi have similar guns-at-work laws, although a judge struck down Oklahoma's law after finding it conflicted with federal workplace-safety rules. The U.S. Supreme Court also is weighing what could be a landmark case about Washington, D.C.'s gun ban that could have wide implications on gun regulations.