Guns, or lost jobs and safety

Guns, or lost jobs and safety

April 19th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Last week, the Washington Post published an editorial criticizing the Tennessee Legislature's passage of a law -- and Gov. Bill Haslam's refusal to veto it -- that seems designed solely to safeguard teaching in public schools of the pseudo-science theory of creationism as a legitimate counterpoint to science-based knowledge of evolution, and such issues as global warming. Next time, the Post may be writing about the Tennessee Legislature's willingness to sacrifice the state's rising job-creation prospects on the NRA altar of gun-carry rights on employer parking lots, and the parking facilities of public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities.

Word gets around.

So surely, Tennessee's governor, mayors and job recruiters at chambers of commerce -- not to mention a lot of Tennesseans who would like new job opportunities -- must be wondering why state legislators are so willing to shoot Tennessee's economic prospects in the foot. And why, at the same time, they're so willing to raise the stakes against student safety when the logical priority is to improve the reputation and academic standing of our schools and universities.

Make no mistake, the damage to Tennessee from this witless expansion of gun-carry rights is immense. Yet the Legislature is blithely, recklessly churning this legislation through House committees. One bill would permit Tennesseans with gun-carry permits to take their guns to work and leave them in their cars in their employers' parking lots. An equally egregious companion bill would forbid employers from asking current and prospective workers if they're licensed to carry a gun, and where they carry it.

Employers, large and small, rightly object to these onerous laws. "That's a sort of thing that makes us a bit nervous," Volkswagen Chairman and CEO Frank Fischer told the Associated Press on Monday.

Fischer's guarded understatement can't be taken lightly. His and other companies have vigorously tried in testimony before the Legislature to kill these bills. Business leaders are outraged that the Legislature would intrude on their private property rights to forbid employees carrying weapons onto the premises of their companies.

Fischer's concern, and that of other large employers, is their responsibility and legal liability for the security of all their employees and guests at their plants and facilities. America's history of enraged workers charging into businesses to shoot and kill other employees is all to vivid and tragic to allow them to ignore that safety issue. Trampling property rights of the state's employers in this regard and hindering their authority to impose reasonable security measures should be unthinkable.

Area residents here, as well as lawmakers, have good reason to wonder if VW's decision to build its Audi plant in Mexico, rather than Chattanooga, was influenced as much by the Legislature's gun-crazy myopia as by the region's lack of educated workers for the higher level of jobs, for which it recently said it would advertise nationally.

The Legislature obviously isn't thinking clearly about such issues. While the governor and the state Senate and House leaders oppose the proposed expansion of gun rights, Chattanooga's Rep. Gerald McCormick, the House majority leader, is still saying he's willing to keep pushing the bills forward toward a compromise. Yet a compromise on guns on employers' parking lots is hardly imaginable: Either employers win on this issue, or Tennessee loses. Legislators should wake up and grasp that reality.