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Seminar Speaker Spotlight: Dr. James Pastor--Guns in the Workplace

By Matthew Harwood

Dr. James Pastor is president of Chicago-based SecureLaw, Ltd. and an associate professor at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting, Indiana. He is also the author of Terrorism and Public Safety Policing: Implications for the Obama Presidency. For ten years, Pastor operated a law firm specializing in public safety and security. He represented four security firms and two police unions. Pastor began his career as a tactical police officer with the Chicago Police Department’s Gang Crime Enforcement Unit, performing proactive tactical enforcement directed at gang activities and focusing on drug and weapon violations in high-crime areas. During his educational session on Thursday, October 14, at 11:00 am, Pastor will deliver his presentation, “Guns in the Workplace,” and draw on his unique career experiences to help security professionals deal appropriately with guns near the workplace.  The session will survey new gun laws and help security tailor policies to comply with potentially contradictory legislation. I interviewed him about some of what he will cover.

Dr. Pastor, guns in the workplace is a broad topic, what specifically are you going to talk about in your session this year?
 
I’m going to give an overview of the various gun laws that have taken shape in the last couple years as they relate to the possession of guns. And I’ll give highlights from the recent Supreme Court (.pdf) case as well from a larger policy perspective and drill down from there to how these gun laws may affect security and security methods within the workplace.
 
Refresh my memory, what did the Supreme Court say in that recent ruling?
 
The question has been finally put to bed, if you will, about whether gun possession is indeed an individual right. The Court has essentially said it is an individual right. The D.C. case prior to this, people thought there might be a distinction between the District of Colombia and the states. The Court said there is none. Individuals within the United States have a right to possess guns. Now the question is what are the appropriate governmental limitations on that right.
 
There are two big issues here then. First, what is the government’s right to restrict guns in certain places? But isn’t there also a private property area where there are restrictions? Isn’t there an inherent conflict between an individual’s right to gun ownership and another individual’s property rights?
 
That’s the tension within the state statutes that I’ll give some overviews of. Florida has one, Georgia has one, Indiana just passed one, Oklahoma has one. Here’s the distinction. What the Court and state legislatures have said is that a private employer cannot prevent an individual from carrying a gun to the parking lot and then keeping it within the parking lot when he walks into his workplace.
 
So if it’s in a person’s car—their personal property—employers have no right to restrict that person from carrying their gun from home to work as long as they don’t take it into work?
 
Correct, and now there are some exceptions to that. The courts and the statutes have been fairly strict in not allowing the employer to interfere with that right up until that individual essentially walks into the workplace.
 
The challenge for the security industry then becomes preventing those guns from coming from the parking lot into the workplace. That’s where policies, training, technology improvements, and maybe—and this is the kicker in my mind—a movement toward more armed security personnel enters the discussion.
 
You’re a lawyer and a security professional: what do you feel about these state laws? Do you think they’re overstepping their boundaries?
 
I’ll even take it a step further. I’m a former Chicago police officer who served in the gang crime enforcement unit. I’ve taken literally thousands of guns off the street. I also have a Ph.D. in public policy, so I have a sense of the big public policy issues around this. Here’s my point. It’s an extraordinary challenge that has been thrust upon the security industry generally and on private employers more specifically.
 
The dilemma is this: If you agree carrying a gun is, indeed, a constitutionally mandated right, then that right has implications. Just like we can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater, there are certain limitations to that right of free speech. We’re going to have to craft the appropriate limitations around the right to carry a weapon. I’m a little conflicted on where I stand on this. I’m not a gun nut. I didn’t grow up in a gun culture. I was a policeman so I learned how to use a gun. It’s a tool like other tools. But I don’t really have a great love or fear for guns. I think I draw the line somewhere in the middle.
 
But there are people on both ends of the spectrum. There are people who are heavily into the gun culture and then there are people who are very afraid of guns. I think the security industry must clinically disengage from this issue because of the heavy emotions on both sides. I think it’s going to be incumbent on professionals in the industry to take this thing and dissect it like a surgeon would. They need to look at the pros and cons and try to find that happy medium between those two important principles of rights and security. It’s going to be a challenge.
 
There are some very potentially overlapping issues. Carrying a gun into a parking lot is a potential disaster. There is a perfect storm brewing where you have a lot of problems within the workplace because of the economy as well as ever present domestic issues within the workplace. This illustrates the potential conflict between guns and rights. We’re going to be straddling this line for years to come. 
 
Do security professionals in these states have to worry more about employees "going postal?"
 
Yes. The statutes that give you the right to carry the gun into the parking lot also provide easy access to guns. As security professionals struggle to prevent workplace violence, these laws provide a potential unintended consequence—that is: guns in the workplace. These laws give employees the right to carry guns into the company parking lot. Having this access to guns, any employee who may become angered at a boss or co-workers, could do great damage. On the other hand, these laws basically negate any liability to an employer if indeed the employee uses the gun in a violent way. The nature of the premise liability claims that go to foreseeability and the potential for employer liability have been negated and/or greatly diminished by the statutes. This reduction of liability exposure, however, doesn’t do any good to the impact of someone losing their life in a facility.
 
 
That’s practical though. If you’re going to force private employers and private property owners to allow guns in parking lots, then if something goes tragically wrong, you have to protect them since many employers don’t want guns near their places of business, right?
 
Exactly: That’s one of those “you take a step forward, and then take a step backward” situations. You’re providing some level of rights that previously weren’t available, but at the same time they’re taking away the potential liability exposure to that employer. From a human level, that doesn’t do the victim any good if indeed somebody starts shooting with a weapon that they legally had a right to carry into the parking lot. So this presents great challenges for security professionals. The distinction is security professionals don’t have to worry about the legal consequences of the event, because these laws limit liability.
 
How is security responding to these laws in the covered states?
 
The typical security protocols that have been used to secure facilities for other criminal behaviors are being applied now to these laws. Certainly, metal detectors are one option, although there could be a pushback from employee bargaining units. But you also have the issue of developing policies that restrict the access of individuals going into the parking lot. Also, workplaces could consider more extensive CCTV camera coverage within the parking lot, so if somebody goes out on break, you might be able to get a heads up on whether someone’s coming back in with a gun. This could come in handy if you have an individual who storms out of the facility after an argument with a boss. Certainly it’s those red flags that have to be extraordinarily concerning to security people.
 
In your opinion, do you think allowing guns so close to places of employment will ratchet up the fear and suspicion within certain offices?
 
I think it’s inevitable. It’s going to challenge the security industry generally. My guess is its going to create a need for more armed security personnel. Not a lot of firms wanted to have security personnel carry guns in the past. I think these laws are going to create a demand for armed security guards. If you have individuals who have been licensed and trained to carry guns who are not your security personnel, then the logical response is to have security personnel who are capable of confronting those individuals. So it may become increasingly necessary to arm your security people.
 
Now obviously that’s a Catch-22. I’ve been a big advocate of professionalizing the security industry for a long time. My first book is called The Privatization of Police in America, and in this book, I contend that armed, private security personnel are inevitable. This will increase the professionalism of the industry generally. The problem is you’re still going to have a series of mistakes and tragic incidents. You’re also going to have a much more demanding and dangerous job for the security personnel, if we get an increase in crime along with an increased availability of weapons for private citizens. It’s going to be particularly tricky in and around the workplace.
 
So guns in the workplace provide an incredibly chaotic variable into the security equation?
 
I think that is a well summarized sense of where I’m coming from. At the same time, that incredibly chaotic formula is now constitutional. People have been talking about professionalism for a long time and I think ASIS has been instrumental in driving the guidance towards standards for a long time. Here’s the thing. It’s usually the case that government forces the issue and ratchets up the requirement. These decisions, both by state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court, have now created a really delicate dynamic for the industry in general and for specific workplaces. These laws will force the security industry generally, and specific firms, to ratchet up security protocols. In the end, I think it will result in more armed security personnel. This will require more professionalism in the security industry. Consequently, as is often the case, opportunities result from crisis. While these laws may result in more workplace violence incidents, they will also provide substantial opportunity for increased professionalism within the industry.  
 

♦ Photo of handgun by ArtBrom/Flickr

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