The article ‘Concealed Carry Permits Fire up Debate Over Workplace Shootings’ is another shot fired by the pro-gun supporters to advocate that workplaces should move from being ‘gun free’ to ‘right to carry’ zones in which frontier justice once again becomes the norm. I would first like readers to know that I am neither pro or anti gun. I accept the ‘right of Americans to bare arms’ and believe this to be an important right rooted in the history of this great country. Beyond that I believe in, as Dr. John Lott often refers too in the article, the application of common sense in the use of guns. Unfortunately, ‘common sense’ as it applies to the use and application of guns is subject to interpretation, political views, biases and the unpredictable nature of human behavior. Accordingly, I would like to acknowledge upfront that the debate of views regarding guns in the workplace will take place in the arena of personal beliefs, ideas, experience and reasoning, not in scientific data, quantitative analysis and experimental research despite the temptation to throw in statistical relevance.
The initial premise in the article is that Louis ‘Sandy’ Javelle an employee at Edgewater Technologies, MA who held both a federal firearms license and permit to carry a handgun in New Hampshire could have thwarted the shooting spree of Michael McDermott had Javelle been allowed to carry his concealed weapon at work. It should be note that Javelle confronted McDermott, but without a weapon became his third victim. Initially, I agree with this premise because it is logical to believe that Javelle may have been able to subdue or kill McDermott. However, this bit of reasoning in no way justifies a leap to the premise that allowing concealed weapons in the workplace will make them safer because this would be an aberration at best of rational reasoning and linear thinking for sure.
For example, in today’s merger mania environment it is easy to hypothesize that the company in discussion is acquired by another company and a manager from the acquiring company known as a ‘hard ass, take no prisoners type’ takes over Javelle’s department. He and Javelle butt heads right from the beginning and the manager commences to make his life miserable by constantly berated Javelle in front of his peers, giving him unreasonable deadlines for project completion and rating his performance as not satisfactory. The situation was capped off by one of the junior people in Javelle’s department being made his supervisor. To add insult to injury, because of the stress and pressure at work he has been taking it out his wife who is getting fed up with the situation so things are getting real tense at home.
Needless to say in this situation Javelle is becoming highly stressed and is being pushed to the edge. Despite his exemplary record, placed in this scenario I don’t believe many people would consider it an asset to have Javelle bringing a conceal weapon to work everyday. The stark truth is that organizations change,
situations change and so do people, so to generalize that ‘conceal weapon permit holders are less likely to get highly stress and lose it, is a dangerous proposition that is no better than the odds of rolling the dice. We must remember that we are dealing with human behavior that is not predictable like math formulas. To further illustrate this point, one only need to refer to the recent situation in Tacoma, WA where the Chief of Police, David Brame murdered his estranged wife. Being the Chief of Police did not immune him from the same range of human emotions, psychological despair that potentially led to this tragic situation. The relevance of statistics stating that ‘people that possess a conceal weapon permit’ have a lesser rate of criminal acts is of little consequence to the family of Brames estranged wife. And, as I am sure you know, law enforcement officers have one of the highest rates of divorce and suicide, despite the extensive training they receive, so if sworn police officers frequently succumb to their humanity to suggest that ‘conceal weapon permit owners’ are a better group unlikely to fall prey to their full range of the human experience is folly.
In addition, as noted in ‘Badge of Dishonor: A P-1 Special Report’ many cops who abuse their wives rarely get punished due to the ever alive ‘code of silence’ fostering police officials to look the other way or to down play domestic abuse situations. Since many conceal weapon permit owners are ex-law enforcement it is only a small leap to hypothesize that a reasonable percent of the these now private citizens also have been domestic abusers. Coupling this perspective with the one point that most psychologist agree with – the best predictor of future violence is a previous history of violence – suggest that the ‘conceal weapons permit holder’ may actually be part of an ‘at risk’ group.
Further in the article there is an attempt to use the Doug Williams shooting at the Lockheed Martin plant in Meridian, Mississippi to purportedly illustrate that having an effective workplace violence prevention process in place including a ‘no weapons’ policy is less effective than opening the workplace up to allowing conceal weapons permit owners to bring a weapon on the premises. First of all, the argument that Lockheed had an effective workplace violence prevention initiative is open to considerable question. In my experience, simply having a workplace violence policy, an EAP program and training does not make a program effective. It is acting on ‘the warning signs’ and taking definitive actions that either mitigate or remove the threat from the work environment that is the hallmark of an effective program. For an employee who was openly feared and known to be a ticking bomb to have still been working for the company is not my idea of an effective program. From the immediate reaction of other employees after the shooting including one who stated “when I heard the news that someone was shooting at the plant I knew who it was” it is readily apparent that Mr. Williams was not ‘over’ his anger and resentment. In addition, the statement that he had undergone psychological counseling begs the issue of whether he underwent a threat assessment by a specialist or he just met with an EAP psychiatrist who does generalist work. This is one of the pitfalls we often find with EAP programs, they oftentimes do not use the services of specialist to deal
with ‘at risk’ situations which actually can expose the company to surprise liability because the illusion is created that everything has been handled. The final point about the Lockheed shooting that is very problematic is that there security apparently was insufficient to allow Mr. Williams to so easily bring his weapon onto the premises. This was clearly a gaping hole in their security and workplace violence prevention program.
The next bogus argument raised is that the report ‘The Bias Against Guns’ conclusively shows that only the passage of one type of law yielded a reduction in the ‘rampage shootings’ was the passage of right to carry [conceal weapons] laws. This is preceding by Lott’s statement “The normal types of law enforcement, where you impose penalties after the fact, aren’t really relevant to a lot of these guys when they commit these crimes because they seem to have some expectation that there’s a high probability that they are going to die.” Please help me understand that if this statement is true that ‘these guys have this death wish’ it would seem to me that knowing someone had a gun would serve as a magnet to ensure the wish would happen as oppose to a deterrent to go some where else where the purpose would be realized. The argument is self defeating. The other point I find troubling about this line of thinking is that multiple victim shooters are likely to be more influenced by their desire for frontier justice than by the threat of being killed. They have already made up their mind that somebody is going to pay for having wronged them and the normal fear of death has been suspended in their mind. It is no longer a factor. I am also troubled by the reference to the study ‘The Bias Against Guns’ because by their own statements it focused on ‘multiple victim public shootings.’ There is a big difference in studying ‘multiple victim public shootings’ versus ‘multiple victim workplace shootings’ and as any trained researcher knows the dynamics, variables and causes can be significantly different. Glossing over this fact makes me very suspect particularly when they move to draw definitive conclusions from the larger population, “multiple victim public shootings,” and to apply them to “multiple victim workplace shootings.” This is akin to studying cases like ‘Jack the Ripper, Son of Sam, the Zodiac killer’ and applying the conclusions to the Lockheed Martin plant shooting. It is a classic case of comparing apples and oranges and calling the results conclusive.
I totally agree with James Madero’s view that “there are tremendous risks involved in having an armed employee population.” Just a little application of common sense reinforces this point. We only need look at the statistics regarding ‘child deaths inflicted by gun wounds.’ The vast majority of these children die because there was a gun in their house that was accessible to them. I am sure their parents would not agree that making their house a gun zone was still a good idea. My point here is that just as having guns in a house creates the possibility of unintended consequences for a family, the possibility of these unintended consequences would be geometrically multiplied in the workplace.
The other strong point I would like to make is that many organizations have questioned the viability of having armed security guards and chosen not to do so
because of the possibility of an unintended consequence and the liability risk.
So if organizations are not willing to arm those entrusted with providing security, it would make no sense to skip security and have other employees armed. I would find it unfathomable that many organizations would want to face these issues in the workplace environment given the immense potential legal liability and possible consequences. To quote an unknown author, this would be a classic case of “we have solved the problem, now we must fight the solution.”
The last points made in the article use actually examples of where armed students or employees have thwarted or curtailed a shooting incident. While I am sure these cases are real I could cite hundreds of cases where effective implementation of workplace violence zero incidents programs have done the same thing so this does not advance either argument.
I believe that this subject warrants more study because I believe the ultimate goal that Lott, Modera and I share is to make the workplace a safer place to work for people. My suggestion is that organizations reconsider the decision not to have armed security personnel. I recognize this would increase the cost of hiring security personnel because of the heightened skilled level needed, however, weighed against the cost impact of a workplace violence incident the cost are miniscule. (see ‘The Financial Impact of Workplace Violence’ at www.Workplaceviolence911.com) However, I believe arming security personnel is a far better alternative than arming the employee population and dealing with the many unpredictable variables that invariably will arise. This would also address a lingering problem that most firms with ‘No Weapons’ policies need to ensure is addressed – the duty to act that is implied by having the policy. Specifically this means simply stating you do not allow weapons on your premises, but taking no actions to prevent their access may become an issue of negligent enforcement that ultimately gets played out in a courtroom.
In the final analysis, I thank Dr. Lott for advancing his theory because we are all searching for the holy grail of workplace violence prevention and only by studying the variables associated with incidents and exploring new options can we hope to defeat the demon of violence that is wreaking havoc in our workplace.