WASHINGTON --Here's a hypothetical for you.
You're a corporate executive in a state, say Oklahoma, where the people know as much about terrorism as those in New York City, and you have decided that guns have no place on company property, including in the cars of employees using the parking lot. So you ban them on penalty of dismissal.
Your reason is that statistics show that too often when guns are close by, routine arguments and disagreements deteriorate into deadly altercations. You tell the employees that, since this is your property, they must obey the rules and that it is for their own protection. However, with emotions over firearms in this country being what they are, the state legislature passes a law overriding your right to control firearms on your own property. When another corporation fires some employees for violating a similar ban, the fat is in the fire.
Local gun lobbyists get into the act and suddenly here comes the National Rifle Association, which decides that such prohibitions not only violate state law, they also step all over the constitutional rights of your employees to bear arms wherever they please. You join others in suing to protect your property rights and the ability to dictate what can or can't be brought onto your parking lot. The NRA immediately urges its millions of members to boycott your product and those who sell it in a national campaign that includes billboards.
Remember, this is hypothetical, isn't it? Well, not really. The business is one of the largest energy companies in the nation, and it has been a major factor in Oklahoma's economy for nearly 100 years, including times when the Southwest was wild and woolly. The messianic NRA, flush from winning Senate passage freeing gun manufacturers from damage suits stemming from criminal misuse of firearms, is now taking on petroleum giant ConocoPhillips for its safe and sane gun policy. In the process, it has announced a nationwide campaign for its members to boycott the company's Phillips 66 gasoline stations and other outlets.
The gun lobby threw down, so to speak, on the big company when the company had the audacity to challenge its control of legislatures across the nation. The Oklahoma law is another amazing example of the NRA's ability to get what it wants whenever and wherever there are politicians to be bought, from Oklahoma City to Washington. Even the most liberal members of Congress tremble when someone whispers "gun ban." One exception has been in Columbus, Ohio. Officials there adopted an ordinance disallowing citizens to own military-style, magazine-loaded assault weapons after Congress refused to renew such a ban.
The NRA quickly reported that it would not hold its 2007 national convention in the Ohio capital, prompting a comparison to the angry son who announces that he will fix his parents for disciplining him by joining the Marines.
There are things one can and can't do on one's own property, to be sure. For instance, one can't sell something and discriminate on the basis of race, religion or national origin. However, certainly one has the right to set rules for deportment, especially those aimed at eliminating the possibility of deadly violence. My father once confiscated a pellet gun brought into our backyard by an older neighbor boy, for obvious reasons. He had every right to do so and no one would even have considered challenging him, including the boy's parent.
It's a pretty safe bet that a national referendum would find most Americans disagreeing with the NRA's position on this issue no matter where they might stand on other gun-control questions. It is bad enough that congressional gun lackeys are about to grant firearms manufacturers an immunity from liability that no other industry enjoys in this country. Now businesses must fight off an assault on their property rights.
Whatever one's position on the spread of firearms, we should all be able to agree that there are certain places where they don't belong -- church, school or company lots included -- even if they are locked in cars. The Oklahoma corporations that have sued to save their control of their property contend they are liable for worker safety. They are right, and the gun lobby and its stooges are 1,000 percent wrong in this case.
X Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of Scripps Howard.