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Take your gun to work? Some are glad it's legal in Indiana now

For one, having a fellow restaurant owner killed during a robbery scared him into getting a permit to carry his gun. For another, witnessing a domestic situation spill over into the workplace and leave a co-worker dead scared her into ensuring everyone gets home from work safely every day.

Posted on March 21, 2010 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 21, 2010 at 3:08 p.m.

ELKHART -- For one, having a fellow restaurant owner killed during a robbery scared him into getting a permit to carry his gun.

For another, witnessing a domestic situation spill over into the workplace and leave a co-worker dead scared her into ensuring everyone gets home from work safely every day.

The experiences of Mickey Skoulos, owner of Sunrise Cafe on Beardsley Avenue, and Ariann Lawhorn, human resources manager at Mid-City Supply Co. on Industrial Parkway, shape their views of the "take your gun to work" bill that Gov. Mitch Daniels signed Thursday. The new law, which passed handily through the Indiana General Assembly, allows Hoosiers to keep firearms locked in their vehicles while they are at work with exceptions made for places like schools, daycare centers, prisons and shelters.

Currently, Indiana employers are able to set their own policies regarding guns at their facilities, said Terry Dawson, partner at Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis. This law, when it takes effect July 1, will prohibit businesses from banning weapons at their work sites which is creating tension between the Second Amendment right to bear arms and companies' right to control the properties they own.

While an expected legal battle would focus on the question of which is the prevailing right, Skoulos and Lawhorn have opinions colored by the horrible acts of violence that have touched their lives.

Skoulos agrees with the law, believing gun owners who have a permit to carry have the right to keep their weapons with them.

"They should have that right," he said. "The bad people already have access."

Lawhorn disagrees with the law, maintaining that giving ready access to firearms will make Indiana businesses more unsafe.

"I hope everybody everywhere, myself included, gets to go home at the end of the day," she said. "It's my opinion having access to weapons increases the potential that they will be used."

FIGHTING GRASSROOTS

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce was a vocal opponent of the gun to work bill throughout the 2010 legislative session. Although similar bills have been introduced in years past, it never garnered enough support. However when the bill was introduced this time, George Raymond, vice president of human resources and labor relations for the chamber, knew it was going to reach the governor's desk, largely because of a very strong grassroots effort by gun owners.

Consequently, the chamber and other organizations turned their attention to getting exemptions into the bill.

Among those pushing hard for exclusions was Paula Shively, chief executive officer of ADEC in Bristol. She worked with other organizations across the state that serve the developmentally disabled to get language into the law that would ban firearms from personal vehicles that may be used to transport such individuals.

"For us, it's a health and safety issue for the people we serve and support," Shively said, explaining if an ADEC client found a weapon in a car, that person might not understand the consequences and accidentally harm themselves or others.

The law does not exempt county government property which has Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder concerned even though the guns and ammunition would have to be secured in the vehicles.

"I don't think we want any weapons on country property, period," he said.

The current county ordinance prohibits individuals from carrying firearms into any county buildings, said Gordon Lord, the county's legal counsel. However, it does not apply to the outdoor grounds or parking lots of the various public offices.

During her own lobbying as a member of the Michiana Society for Human Resource Managers, Lawhorn talked to several elected officials about the bill and was surprised by their response. She was prepared to hear arguments supporting the constitutional right to bear arms but instead she heard the legislators talk about wanting constituents to be able to protect themselves when driving through dangerous neighborhoods on their way to work.

It was a reply that stymied Lawhorn. She had no response, in part, because even though she is a gun owner, herself, she does not feel the need to carry a firearm for personal protection.

NOT A DICTATOR

"I like it," Tania Fergison said of the gun law.

A waitress at the Sunrise Cafe, the petite woman worries when she and her co-workers arrive at 5 a.m. to begin preparations for the breakfast crowd. Being able to protect herself, she said, will make her feel safer since she never knows who will come through the door.

Her employer, Skoulos, applied for a carrying permit the very day that Anthony James "A.J." Williams was killed on Aug. 1, 2000, during a robbery of his establishment, A.J.'s Tip Top Restaurant. Having to allow employees, who are properly licensed, to keep guns in their cars while at work, does not bother him. Even if he had a policy against such action now, he said, he would still have no idea if any employees are packing weapons plus he would have no right to search their vehicles to find out.

"You can be an employer but you cannot be a dictator," Skoulos said. "The government didn't have a problem giving a permit for the gun, why should I have a problem if you leave a gun out there?"

DIGNITY AND RESPECT

"That's crazy," Mary McCalley said of the gun law.

She grew up with guns in her house, served in the military and today owns a firearm but fears allowing guns at work will lead to more violence on the job. And in these difficult economic times when many are already distraught, McCalley and her friend Eric Nagy pointed out, an individual would only have to walk to his or her car to get a gun to perhaps settle a score over a layoff notice.

Lawhorn knows from working for different companies that terminating employees can spark tense situations. She always treats the workers with "dignity and respect," she said, but when losing a job, the employee can become confused, angry and filled with hopelessness. In these charged circumstances, Lawhorn has had police present during terminations and on occasion has had to call 911 and lock down the facilities.

Yet even as her concerns grow over the impact of this law, Lawhorn said she would not take her gun to the office.

"I can say with confidence that I would always rely on law enforcement to handle any situation here at work," she said.

GOING TO COURT

Both Dawson and Raymond anticipate the law will soon be challenged in court. A case currently at the U.S. Supreme Court could provide the grounds for a lawsuit, Raymond said, or an Indiana employer could start legal action, claiming its property rights trump individual rights.

Lawhorn believes the dispute surrounding the new gun law will take years to play out and only something significant will throw the law into the court system.

"Unfortunately," she said, "I think it will take a horrific event happening at someone's place of employment for it to move to that level."

Truth reporter Tim Vandenack contributed to this story.


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