Concealed Carry Permits Fire up Debate Over Workplace Shootings

July 7, 2008 - 8:21 PM

(Editor's note: This story contains descriptions of graphic violence and death, as well as one instance of quoted profanity, which some readers may find disturbing.)

(CNSNews.com) - In the crime blotter from Dec. 26, 2000, Louis "Sandy" Javelle's name appeared alongside those of six other victims who had been shot to death by a disgruntled co-worker at Edgewater Technologies, Inc., in Wakefield, Mass.

Javelle distinguished himself that day by trying to delay and disarm the gunman, 42-year-old Michael McDermott, before being killed. But Javelle might have saved his own life and at least four others if the concealed handgun permit he held in New Hampshire had allowed him to carry a weapon on his job in neighboring Massachusetts, according to one of Javelle's friends and numerous firearms policy experts.

"Sandy held both a federal firearms license and a permit to carry a handgun in New Hampshire," according to his friend, David Bergquist. "Ironically, the gun laws in Massachusetts prevented him from carrying a concealed handgun. But these same laws did not prevent Michael McDermott from obtaining illegal firearms."

Bergquist wrote the Boston Herald on Jan. 11, 2000, to inform the paper's readers of facts he believed were not being disclosed by law enforcement officials or reported by local and national media.

"When the rampage started, Sandy told co-workers to lock the door behind him and barricade it. He then confronted McDermott and became the third victim," Bergquist explained. "If Sandy had been permitted to carry a pistol, he could have stopped McDermott. That meant that five other people could possible have survived this tragedy.

"But Sandy did not have that option," Bergquist concluded. McDermott was later convicted of seven counts of first-degree murder.

Businesses often forbid licensed employees to carry guns at work

Even if the state of Massachusetts had honored Javelle's New Hampshire Concealed Handgun Permit, there's no guarantee that the legally qualified, trained marksman could have carried his weapon to work.

The 2003 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Workplace Violence Survey, to be released in December, polled employers about incidents of aggressive behavior at work and what steps employers were taking, ostensibly, to prevent violence. According to SHRM's Jen Jorgensen, "68 percent of organizations have a written policy addressing rules and regulations about weapons in the workplace."

The survey did not ask whether the policies gave or withheld permission for employees to be armed. But James Madero, Ph.D., president of Violence Prevention International, told CNSNews.com that "most organizations or companies won't allow weapons.

"There are a lot of downsides to having your employees armed at work," Madero claimed. "I think it's more dangerous. The companies and organizations we work with, they primarily say the best thing is no weapons."

Madero feels the majority of potential employee conflicts that could escalate to violence can be alleviated by the kinds of services his organization offers.

"Our experience has been that a lot of the homicides that occur at work, where it's one worker to another, is that those companies and organizations that have [such incidents] don't have a workplace violence prevention program or don't have a very good one in place," Madero said. "If you've got a workplace violence prevention program in place, there's a really good chance that you can prevent those things from happening."

'Very in-depth' program didn't prevent mass shooting at Mississippi plant

The Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company has what some in the workplace violence prevention industry consider one of the best programs of its type. Sam Grizzle, a spokesman for the Lockheed Martin Plant in Meridian, Miss., told CNSNews.com that: "we have a very thorough training program and employee awareness program for these particular issues."

The company's "workplace ethics program" includes training in a variety of areas such as harassment, ethical business practices, diversity, anger management and conflict resolution. Grizzle said LMAC also expects its employees to treat each other with respect and takes action when that expectation is not met.

"We have a very in-depth employee information and training program in place, and we have workplace rules and regulations our employees are required to follow," Grizzle explained. "When something is reported amiss, then we do an immediate investigation and take follow-up actions."

That is exactly what happened with LMAC employee Doug Williams in December of 2001. According to a statement issued by LMAC President Dain Hancock, Williams "supposedly made threatening remarks during a confrontation with another employee" at the Lockheed Martin plant in Meridian,

"As a result of a company investigation and his own admission of a problem with his temper, Mr. Williams was required to undergo professional psychological counseling," Hancock said. "After satisfactorily completing the treatment, he was cleared to return to work."

Williams did return to work, and with the exception of one additional incident in which a "minor prank" offended a coworker, he stayed out of trouble until July 8, 2003. On that Tuesday, Williams was attending one of the company's mandatory "workplace ethics" seminars.

The 48-year-old Williams, who had worked at the plant since 1984, left before the end of the training, retrieved a rifle and shotgun and returned to work, killing six of his co-workers and wounding eight others before committing suicide. After the massacre, he was described by several of his former fellow employees as "mad at the world." One witness told reporters that Williams shouted, "I told you people about f***ing with me," before he opened fire.

Mississippi law prohibits the disclosure of the identities of concealed weapons permit holders to anyone other than law enforcement officers engaged in the official performance of their duties, so there is no way to know whether any of the Lockheed Martin employees present when the shooting took place had such permits. Unlike Massachusetts, however, Mississippi has a "shall issue" law, meaning the Department of Public Safety there is required to issue a concealed weapons permit to any state resident who fulfills the training requirements and has not been convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor.

But even if one or more of the LMAC employees had completed the requirements - classroom and firing range training, an FBI background check and been fingerprinted and photographed by the state police - to obtain a permit, their guns could not have helped stop Williams' murderous rampage.

"We have a strict policy that firearms are not permitted on any Lockheed Martin property," Grizzle said. "Obviously, with the exception of our security people...they are absolutely forbidden."

States allow private property owners to prohibit concealed carry

In every state that grants concealed weapons permits to private citizens - and the two states that require no such permits, Alaska and Vermont - private property owners may forbid permit holders from entering their property armed. Dr. John Lott, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of More Guns, Less Crime and The Bias Against Guns, believes companies that prohibit concealed carry should consider changing their policies.

"I understand people's desire to create these so-called 'gun free zones,'" Lott said. "The problem with it and the unintended consequences, though, are that the people who are likely to obey those rules are the law-abiding good citizens, who you don't have anything to worry about.

"Rather than creating safe zones for victims, I think you unintentionally create safe zones for those who are intent on trying to do the harm," Lott added.

To reinforce his point, Lott asks detractors to consider the possibility of a member of their family being stalked or threatened.

"Would you feel safer putting a sign up in front of your home that said, 'This home is a gun-free zone?'" Lott asks. "Would that make it less likely that they would attack you? I think most people have a pretty immediate reaction to that, realizing that it would be pretty counterproductive."

Lott believes prohibiting concealed weapons permit holders from bringing their firearms to work has the same effect.

"It encourages attacks to take place in those areas," Lott said.

Research shows so-called 'gun free zones' invite armed criminal attacks

That conclusion, Lott said, is not mere speculation. He and University of Chicago Professor William Landes studied "multiple victim public shootings" from 1977 through 1999 and reported the results in The Bias Against Guns.

"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," Lott explained.

In fact, in more than 70 percent of the rampage shootings studied, the criminal died at the scene, either from a self-inflicted gunshot wound or after being shot in self-defense by another civilian or law enforcement officer. The pair also examined 13 kinds of gun laws - including waiting periods, background checks, bans on so-called "assault weapons," etc. - and determined that passage of only one type of law yielded a reduction in such killing sprees.

"The only one that we found that had any impact was the passage of right to carry [concealed weapons] laws, and the effect was huge," Lott said. "After states passed right to carry laws, they saw about a 60 percent drop in the rate at which these attacks occurred and about a 78 percent drop in the rate at which people were either killed or injured in these attacks."

Police veterans, Second Amendment groups, support concealed carry at work

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, believes only a little common sense is needed to determine that an armed employee, trained to use a handgun lawfully and effectively in self-defense, can offer a better response to a violent assault in the workplace than an unarmed victim.

"If they have a gun, they're going to put it in their hand," Pratt said. "And, depending on how much training they've had, they're going to go out and confront the bad guy.

"But, in any case," Pratt continued, "if [the bad guy] finds them, he's going to have more trouble than he counted on."

Retired Capt. John Sigler was a full-time certified law enforcement officer and police firearms training instructor in Dover, Del., for "many, many, many years." He agrees with Lott and Pratt.

"The answer is obvious in a case where you have someone who is already trained and knowledgeable, who has voluntarily taken responsibility for his safety or her safety, as the case may be, by being a permit holder," said Sigler, now second vice president of the National Rifle Association.

Workplace violence prevention expert Madero, disagrees, and believes allowing employees with concealed weapons permits to arm themselves in the workplace would lead to disaster.

"While there may be some benefits, there are tremendous risks involved in having an armed employee population, or at least a partially armed employee population," Madero said.

Madero believes allowing trained, qualified employees, who have been screened by state police to carry firearms at work would result in minor arguments escalating into shootings. But Sigler believes the lo w frequency of arrests of concealed weapons permit holders for any offenses, compared to the general population, should allay such concerns.

"I think [Madero] really doesn't understand the nature of the individuals who take it upon themselves to be responsible for their own safety and the safety of others," Sigler said. "It's a shame that people like [Madero] do not understand the true nature of violence and the true nature of citizen action that the concealed carry permit holder probably understands better than he does."

Outcome of public rampage shootings altered by armed civilian response

In highlighting how a single armed victim could make a difference in a public shooting, Sigler recalled the Oct. 31, 2003, attack on an attorney outside the Van Nuys, Calif., courthouse. In that case, William Striler is accused of walking up to Simi Valley attorney Jerry Curry and shooting at him nearly a half-dozen times as onlookers watched helplessly. The entire incident was recorded by television cameras set up outside the courthouse to broadcast cove rage of the murder trial of actor Robert Blake.

"Had there been a permit holder there, one wonders whether that permit holder might have been able to stop that whole thing from escalating as far as it did," Sigler said. "The vast majority of concealed carry permit holders throughout the United States, as well as all of the prior law enforcement have the training that could have brought that incident, and other similar incidents in the workplace and in public places, to a halt before there was loss of life."

Unarmed and, therefore, unable to fight back effectively, Curry used his briefcase to try to deflect the bullets. When that didn't work, he tried to hide behind a tree, but was still severely wounded. Striler was tackled moments later as he walked past the television cameras, away from where Curry had collapsed from blood loss. Curry is still recovering from his wounds. Striler has been charged with attempted murder.

In contrast, Lott recalled the Oct. 1, 1997, shooting of two students at a high school in Pearl, Miss. Then 17-year-old Luke Woodham shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and a classmate and wounded seven others before being stopped by a faculty member who retrieved a handgun from his vehicle, which was parked off school property.

"An assistant principal there at the school had a handgun in his truck. He had a permit to carry a concealed handgun," Lott noted, adding that state law prohibits permit holders from carrying their weapons on school property. "[But] he was able to stop the shooter."

Woodham was later convicted on two counts of murder and seven counts of aggravated assault.

Lott noted another incident, in which two students, who retrieved their guns from their vehicles, stopped a rampage shooter from killing additional victims at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va. Three people were shot to death and six others wounded on Jan. 16, 2002, by 43-year-old Peter Odighizuma, a Nigerian student who had been suspended from the school earlier in the day.

Odighizuma was later declared mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered hospitalized in an effort to restore his mental competency.

Both the Mississippi and Virginia cases, Lott said, highlight another point he confirmed in his research.

"In those states that passed [right to carry laws], to the extent to which attacks still occur, they tended to be significantly related to the number of 'gun free zones' that were there," Lott explained, "and, also, they tended to be much more likely to take place in these particular areas, once they became 'gun free zones' as compared to other places.

"When the whole state, in some sense, was a 'gun free zone,' before they passed right to carry laws, you'd see a distribution across all sorts of places," Lott continued. "But it was much more narrowly concentrated in areas that were obviously 'gun free zones' after right to carry laws were passed and those places were given specific exemptions."

Public and private research indicates that firearms are used to stop crimes between 250,000 (U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics) and 2.5 million (Florida State University criminology professor, Dr. Gary Kleck) times. Sigler says that statistical support, combined with the comparisons of various public shootings in which armed civilians either were or were not present, should convince employers to at least consider allowing employees who hold valid concealed weapons permits to carry their guns, out of sight, at work.

"Where the ability is there and the willingness is there," Sigler concluded, "it makes common sense to have concealed carry permit [holders] and prior law enforcement [personnel] who want to arm themselves, to protect themselves and to protect the workplace, to be allowed to do so."

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