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Opinion: Guns at work: Coming soon to an office near you?

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On Dec. 30, 2019, a gunman killed two members of the West Freeway Church of Christ in a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas.

Armed with a shotgun, he probably would have killed more had he not been shot and killed by Jack Wilson, 71, a former reserve sheriff’s deputy and an armed parishioner serving the church. We know this because the event was captured on the church’s video system and shown on media sites around the world.

The incident brings up the discussion yet again as to whether churches, schools and workplaces should allow certain congregants, teachers or campus staff and selected employees to arm themselves to prevent a mass attack at their facilities.

Workplace violence is not a new issue, but it continues to be a current one. A USA Today infographic headline from Nov. 8, 2018, says it all: “4 of the Biggest Mass Shootings in 5 Decades Happened in 2018.” A CBS News online article from Jan. 2, is even more chilling: “There were more mass shootings than days in 2019.”

The response by some school districts is to allow teachers or staff members to volunteer to carry concealed firearms on campus. This is especially necessary, they assert, in rural areas where they don’t have an armed school resource officer and the law enforcement response may be too far away. These teachers and staff members have had to pass a midcareer background check, demonstrate accuracy at the range, hold a valid concealed carry permit and be willing to stop an armed perpetrator in those cases where the police are not on scene.

At these campuses, it’s common to see posted signs that read, “Attention: Please be aware that the staff here is armed and may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students and staff.”

Do these signs serve as a visible deterrent? It’s hard to prove a negative.

In 1994, I co-wrote, “Ticking Bombs,” one of the first business books on workplace violence. I’ve interviewed two workplace murderers in prison, taught hundreds of training programs to thousands of employees and have waited for these shootings to stop. What I had hoped was a security and human resources issue that would fade away continues as a worsening national concern.

Companies no longer have the luxury of saying workplace violence could never happen to them. The sheer number of incidents has made this a mature issue, like sexual harassment, requiring awareness, prevention policies, response protocols, and partnerships with safety and security stakeholders.

So, what does all this mean to business owners and HR or security professionals? Is it time to finally codify the policies and protocols to allow certain employees to carry concealed firearms at work?

Let’s play both sides of the coin for the guns at work debate.

No way, say some business owners and operators. Here’s the logic: “Not every employee who brings his or her gun to work will have had tactical or combat training. Therefore, despite what some gun owners may tell their colleagues, they may lack both the physical skills and the mental abilities to take another human’s life, even when their own lives are in danger. We already know the police are screened, hired, trained, and prepared mentally and physically to make that enormous, life-altering choice.

“The potential for legal liability is limited only by the creativity of the plaintiffs’ attorneys: wrongful death claims, an armed employee’s failure to act, overreactions by armed employees, accidental discharges, horseplay, no training requirements and traumatic stress claims by surviving co-workers or wounded victims.”

Advocates for a certified, trained collection of armed employees say otherwise. It goes like this: “The police are obviously our first option to deal with an armed attacker. However, they rarely get to an active shooter situation before the perpetrator has already killed one or more people. Most active shooter incidents are over in eight to 10 minutes. Perpetrators often engage in targeted violence, meaning they seek to kill specific co-workers, supervisors or their former spouses, before taking their own lives. There is often not enough time for law enforcement to arrive, assess the scene and enter to stop the threat.

“If we are to consider a national application of a ‘bring your gun to work’ law, we would demand the following minimum policies: a full background check; an employee registration program, requiring a medical, vision and mental health clearance from their doctors; a locked storage room with limited access; security officers in the buildings and parking lots to prevent vehicle thefts of guns; a company-authorized annual firearms training and re-certification program; formal workplace violence prevention training for all supervisors and employees; and better law enforcement partnerships. While we may post signs outside our facility warning any potential attackers that some of our employees are armed, we would not publicize these volunteer employees to anyone outside of our organization. They will be a ‘silent squad.’”

At least 26 states have passed legislation allowing employees to bring their firearms on to company property, if they keep them safely stored in their personal vehicles. The guns-at-work movement spanning many states is a moral and legislative reaction to the horrific mass shootings we’ve seen nationwide.

Where do you and your colleagues stand on this issue?

Steve Albrecht is a Springfield-based trainer, human resources consultant and employee coach. He can be reached at drsteve@drstevealbrecht.com.

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