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Factions use defective ammunition in firearms debate

Lawyers against gun owners.

Given how disliked members of both groups are among segments of American society, it’s a battle worthy of an Ultimate Fighting cage match.

The American Bar Association is suiting up against the National Rifle Association over an issue that pits property rights against gun rights: Should firearms be allowed in the personal vehicles of employees while they are at work?

The ABA’s House of Delegates adopted a policy during its Feb. 12 meeting in Miami that sits firmly on a property rights platform:

"RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association supports the traditional property rights of private employers and other private property owners to exclude from the workplace and other private property, persons in possession of firearms or other weapons and opposes federal, state, territorial and local legislation that abrogates those rights."

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Of course, characterizing this issue as having "critical importance to the legal profession and the nation" indicates how far the ABA has drifted from its once objective and neutral roots.

On the same day, the delegates reaffirmed "the association’s commitment to the core values of the profession including the independence of the legal profession; expressing support for those lawyers and law firms that provide pro bono services; condemning attacks on the independence of the legal profession; and urging state and local bar associations to educate the public on the vital role that lawyers who provide services to unpopular clients or causes perform for the benefit of the American system of justice."

It’s hard to imagine a client with a cause more unpopular than the NRA. Resolution or not, plenty of attorneys will be available to take the future case of some employee who sues her company for banning firearms in the parking lot — after the employee is attacked and brutalized in the company garage.

Meanwhile, the NRA is working to encourage state legislatures to adopt laws that require employers to allow workers to have firearms in vehicles parked on company property.

The NRA’s legislative arm is arguing that employees must be given the right to protect themselves on the drive to and from work. Ten states — Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia — have NRA-backed legislation under consideration that would criminalize an employer’s refusal to allow firearms on private property. Alaska, Kentucky, Minnesota and Mississippi have adopted laws that limit employers from barring guns to varying degrees.

Both sides in this debate have serious weaknesses in their reasoning.

The ABA missteps when it moves away from a pure property rights argument and heads to the realm of reducing workplace violence, which ABA officials claim is the point of this resolution.

Do the lawyers really think that a company policy will keep an unbalanced individual from behaving badly on the job? Would a policy against firearms in personal vehicles have stopped Doug Williams from putting five guns into his truck that July 2003 morning when he used two of them to kill six co-workers and wound eight others at the Lockheed Martin plant in Meridian, Miss.?

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Let’s face it: Being terminated from one’s employment is hardly an issue to someone who’s committed multiple homicides.

Employer bans on weapons are virtually worthless unless companies are willing to spend buckets of money on the security personnel and equipment needed to search every vehicle and person entering their property. Most companies don’t even invest in the occasional random search.

This is similar to the problem with the instant background check system for people who want to buy guns. Federally licensed firearms dealers can access a criminal history database to verify if an applicant has truthfully answered questions on the ATF Form 4473 — known as the yellow sheet — about possible felony convictions.

But because they have no access to medical records, dealers have to trust applicants about any use of or addiction to marijuana, depressants, stimulants, narcotics or any other controlled substance, or whether they have been adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution.

Sadly, it’s only revealed after a horrendous crime if someone lied.

The NRA’s tack on this issue is more puzzling than the ABA’s. Second Amendment proponents build their case for state laws on those 27 words found in the Bill of Rights: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The NRA’s legal eagles no doubt argue against company policies as a restriction of a fundamental right to protect and defend oneself.

Yes, but ...

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The Constitution addresses what government can and cannot do. Private companies are not the government. Businesses and corporations may set workplace rules, even in states friendly to gun rights.

Texas, for example, allows qualified residents to carry concealed handguns after completing the state-mandated training and licensing. Yet under the very same state laws, businesses may bar anyone, including permit holders, from bringing a firearm onto their property.

Using state law to dictate to private businesses that they must allow guns on their property is a stretch that many gun-rights advocates and small-government libertarians can’t make.

If company owners don’t mind employees having guns in their cars, that’s the employers’ decision to make.

If they do mind, that call belongs to them.

Not the city council. Not the state legislature. Not the U.S. Congress.

Jill "J.R." Labbe is deputy editorial page editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her e-mail address is jrlabbe@star-telegram.com.

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