Property rights trump all

Property rights trump all

July 16th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Both sides in the combustible "guns-in-parking-lots" debate in Tennessee are right.

Both are also wrong.

A bill that cleared most committees in the Tennessee General Assembly but never came up for full House and Senate votes this year would prevent companies from barring workers or others who have handgun-carry permits from storing firearms in locked vehicles parked on company property. The guns would have to be stored out of sight.

Here is where most opponents of the measure are wrong: They seem to believe that the bill, if passed, would spawn some sort of Wild West bloodbath and compromise the safety of workers and others at businesses around the state.

The evidence indicates otherwise.

Well over 300,000 Tennesseans possess permits that let them carry handguns. That means they have passed criminal background checks and completed a handgun safety course. And however much it pains the anti-Second Amendment crowd to admit it, those Tennesseans are remarkably unlikely to engage in unjustified violence with their guns.

When the D.C.-based Violence Policy Center analyzed data on first- and second-degree murders committed over a three-year period by Tennesseans who are licensed to carry handguns, it could come up with only six such slayings. That represented only 0.002 percent of the vast number of residents of the state who have handgun-carry permits.

So the debate on the guns-in-parking-lots bill would be a lot more productive if opponents could get past their frequent insinuations that people with such permits are apt to generate lots of violence. They aren't.

All that said, however, the legislation in question is misguided for one clear reason: It would violate property rights.

For reasons detailed above, there is no particular wisdom in companies or other private organizations barring law-abiding employees, customers or others from having properly permitted guns locked in their cars and out of sight.

But that is a call that the property owner is entitled to make, and that is where supporters of the law miss the boat. For comparison, should you, on the property where your home is located, not have the right to forbid a visitor to have a gun -- just as you have a right to forbid him to smoke or do any number of other things to which you may object? The guest can abide by your rules on your property, or he can exercise his right not to visit.

The same is true for employees at companies that forbid guns in vehicles on their parking lots. Workers who object are not obliged to work for those companies and have the right to seek employment elsewhere.

It would be perfectly sensible for businesses to allow employees to have concealed guns in their locked vehicles on company property. But sensible or not, it should remain the businesses' decision.