The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an employee of a company contracted to do work at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi who was fired for having a firearm in his car at work has no legal protection, even under the state’s law that allows for some legal gun owners to lawfully store their firearms in their vehicle while they’re at work.
The case was brought by Michael Wayne McIntyre, who was an employee of CalsonicKansei North America, Inc., which in turn was a subcontractor for Nissan North America. In February of 2016, CalsonicKansei was informed through an anonymous tip that McIntyre had a gun in his vehicle, and when a security officer for the company searched McIntyre’s car, they discovered McIntyre’s legally owned handgun in the center console. McIntyre was sent home, and ultimately fired from CalsonicKansei. In his suit, McIntyre claimed that he was wrongfully terminated and had the right under Mississippi law to legally store his gun in his vehicle, but both a U.S. District Judge and the Fifth Circuit disagreed, noting that the parking lot protection law has an exemption that allows companies to ban employees from storing firearms in their vehicles while they’re at work if access to the parking lot is “restricted or limited.” According to the Fifth Circuit, the CalsonicKansei parking lot that McIntyre used as an employee meets that definition.
The drop arms, whatever the facts on how often they were down, provided at least a periodic limitation. Further, a security camera was directed at Entry 1A and was monitored from a central security office. Security officers continuously patrolled the entire plant, including Lot 1B. An additional limit to the public’s access to Lot 1B was created by the barbed-wire-topped, chainlink fence surrounding the entire plant. We conclude that fact is statutorily relevant because limiting access to a larger facility will also limit access to its individual components. Finally, there were visible no-trespassing signs posted at all plant entrances. Signs limit by declaring there is no right to enter. Indeed, posted notice prohibiting entry is a significant legal restriction because entering another’s property in disregard of a properly displayed sign can be a criminal offense.
In other words, if McIntyre had parked in an open parking lot and was fired for having a gun in his vehicle, he would have had a case. Because of the security in place at the Nissan plant, however, McIntyre’s out of luck.
McIntyre could try to bring his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the odds of the court taking up his appeal are pretty long. It might not help his case, but Mississippi lawmakers also have an opportunity to revisit the parking lot legislation that was originally approved back in 2006. Here’s the text of the law as it’s currently written:
(1) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2) of this section, a public or private employer may not establish, maintain, or enforce any policy or rule that has the effect of prohibiting a person from transporting or storing a firearm in a locked vehicle in any parking lot, parking garage, or other designated parking area.
(2) A private employer may prohibit an employee from transporting or storing a firearm in a vehicle in a parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area the employer provides for employees to which access is restricted or limited through the use of a gate, security station or other means of restricting or limiting general public access onto the property.
(3) This section shall not apply to vehicles owned or leased by an employer and used by the employee in the course of his business.
(4) This section does not authorize a person to transport or store a firearm on any premises where the possession of a firearm is prohibited by state or federal law.
(5) A public or private employer shall not be liable in a civil action for damages resulting from or arising out of an occurrence involving the transportation, storage, possession or use of a firearm covered by this section.
Mississippi’s law was put on the books after a couple of fairly high profile cases around the country in which employees were terminated for having their legally owned firearms in their cars on company property. In Utah, three AOL employees got the axe after they brought guns onto the company parking lot when they met up to do some target shooting at a local range, and in Oklahoma, twelve employees of Weyerhauser were fired after a surprise inspection of vehicles turned up a number of legally owned firearms. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2004:
In late summer of 2002, Steve Bastible put three bullets into a dying cow at his ranch, threw the emptied rifle behind the seat of his pickup and forgot about it.
A few weeks later, the rifle cost him his job of 23 years.
That Oct. 1, in a surprise search, Weyerhaeuser Co. sent gun-sniffing dogs into the parking lot of its paper mill here. Mr. Bastible and 11 other workers were fired after guns were found in their vehicles. The timber company said the weapons violated a new company policy that extended a longtime workplace gun ban to the parking area. The fired workers said they knew nothing of the new rule.
The firings outraged many in this wooded community in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. In rural Oklahoma, carrying a firearm in one’s car is commonplace. “In Oklahoma, gun control is when you hit what you shoot at,” says Jerry Ellis, a member of the state legislature.
Now, the dispute is reverberating beyond the borders of tiny Valliant, located in the southeast corner of the state. In response, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law giving Oklahomans the right to keep guns locked in their cars in parking lots. But just days before the law was to go into effect this month, several prominent companies with Oklahoma operations, including Whirlpool Corp. and ConocoPhillips sued to stop it. A federal judge put the law on hold pending a hearing.
Meanwhile, several of the paper-mill workers have filed wrongful-discharge lawsuits against Weyerhaeuser and its subcontractors, which employed the workers. “This is a heck of an injustice that needs to be fixed,” says their Tulsa lawyer, Larry Johnson, 72 years old, who has spent a lifetime studying the second amendment.
The law passed by the Mississippi legislature in 2006 contained the exemption for parking lots with security measures as a sop to big businesses in the state, allowing them to maintain their no-guns-allowed policies. It’s time for legislators in Mississippi to go back to the drawing board, scrap the exemption, and level the playing field for gun owners and employers alike.
The primary reason why folks might want to leave their lawfully-owned firearm in their care is for self-defense. If you’re not allowed to leave your gun in your vehicle while you’re at work, that also prevents you from lawfully carrying on your way to and from work, including any stops you might have to make along the way. Why should someone who works at CalsonicKansei not be able to store their firearm in their vehicle, while someone who works at Sonic Drive-In can keep their handgun in their center console without issue? It makes no legal or moral sense at all. Even if secured parking lots are safer than unsecured locations, the no-guns policies of these large corporations impact the ability for someone to protect themselves when they’re off the clock and not on the company property.
I’m sure that if lawmakers tried to revisit the issue, companies like Nissan North America would once again raise objections to the idea that their employees could legally store their firearms in their vehicle while they’re at work. I’m enough of a political realist to understand that politicians don’t want to tick off large employers to the point that they start looking to move their factories to other states. I’m also enough of an idealist to believe that lawmakers have a duty to ensure that people aren’t being deprived of their right to keep and bear arms, and the current language of the state’s parking lot protection bill leaves thousands of Mississippians without any way to lawfully protect themselves when they’re not at work. Given the Fifth Circuit’s decision, it’s time to fix that.