Not quite the Wild, Wild West yet

Guns and gun ownership are touchy subjects these days. The media’s talking heads debate the issues ad nauseum, while the new Congress is poised to take action on a national scale to curb gun violence.

Don’t worry, though: I have no intention of opening that can of worms. Rather, the sights of this column are aimed squarely at state gun laws that affect Oklahoma City businesses.

Recent statewide legislation has created the possibility of guns being openly and publicly carried by properly licensed citizens in many walks of life. Which means, if you are a local employer, you shouldn’t wait for national legislative changes to be proactive about weapons policies in the workplace.

Indeed, there is no time like the present to examine this new legislation, and implement steps to maintain a safe workplace.

Last spring, when Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law SB 1733. This law allows individuals who are licensed to carry a firearm under the Oklahoma Self Defense Act the option of either carrying a handgun openly or concealing it. Dubbed an “open carry” law, this legislation became law on Nov. 1, 2012.

Some worry this law will rekindle memories of the Wild, Wild West, with members of the public just an itchy trigger finger away from a re-enactment of the OK Corral. Others are convinced that putting guns in the hands of the good guys will ensure that mass slaughter can be avoided.

Regardless of your personal convictions, for an Oklahoma City business, the very serious question remains: Does all of this mean that employees or customers are entitled to openly carry firearms on the premises of the business? The simple answer is no.

SB 1733 specifically prohibits carrying firearms on properties owned or leased by the city, state or federal government; at corrections facilities; and in schools or college campuses. The prohibition also extends to liquor stores and at sports arenas during sporting events, which is good news for Bedlam fans.

Further, and most importantly, nothing in Oklahoma’s new law prohibits a private business owner or employer from establishing and enforcing any policy that prohibits individuals from carrying guns onto the premises.

So, if you want to keep firearms out of your workplace, follow these steps.

First, put up signage that prominently and explicitly puts the public and employees on notice that no weapons, including firearms, are allowed in the place of business.

Next, if you have not already done so, adopt a weapons policy, and immediately distribute it to all employees and have them sign an acknowledgment of receipt of the same. At a minimum, the policy should prohibit employees from bringing handguns or other weapons onto the premises.

The policy should be included in employee handbooks and incorporated into employee training, and the employer should make clear that any violation of the policy may include disciplinary action up to and including termination. For employers who already have an active prohibition against weapons in the workplace, updated handbooks and new notifications should be distributed to make clear that the new law does not affect the current weapons policy.

A note of caution, however: Oklahoma’s private employers should keep in mind that, although they are not prohibited from banning employees and customers from bringing handguns onto the premises, they may not adopt and enforce policies that prohibit employees or customers from keeping a firearm or ammunition locked in their vehicle in the parking lot of the business.

The prospect of employee and customer access to firearms and ammunition being so close can be unsettling – all the more reason why it is important to have an anti-weapon policy in place.

Moreover, you will need to make an investment in personnel who are well-trained to enforce the policy even in the face of misinformed individuals.

In the months to come, the national debate over gun safety will continue and further change is certainly in the works. For Oklahoma businesses, however, the time to act is now. Take control of your workplace, and make certain that every single person who walks into your business understands what they can and cannot do when it comes to the possession of firearms.

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