Just Check 'em at the Door, Boys
By John Taylor
Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise
A story made its way onto one of the Internet lists to which I subscribe telling of a fellow whose workplace initiated a "no weapons" policy in response to passage of a statewide "concealed carry" license law. He apparently felt so strongly about his "right to carry" that he quit his job in protest over the policy.
Response to the article itself was sparse. One respondent said, in effect, that the guy was foolish and that all he had accomplished was to move from being a productive member of society to being a burden on us all. I guess he assumed that the fellow quit his job and became addicted to welfare. (The original article did not discuss what happened to him after he quit.)
Another respondent dismissed the whole incident on the grounds that what the company did was its business, and what the guy did was his. I admit, on the face of it, that seemed to be a valid critique.
The original article mentioned that the fellow "knew that what [the company] had done was not unconstitutional." I wrote a brief comment to the list to the effect that if the attribution was correct, then our seemingly never-ending battle for gun rights was already lost.
Only one person rose to the (unintended) bait. He asked me, very politely, why I said what I did since he "... had always believed that the constitution defined the powers of the federal government and exerted no restrictions on private individuals."
Fair enough. The constitution is certainly silent on the specific rights of private property owners. And our tradition of respect for their rights lead us to hold their individual decisions in the highest regard. Nonetheless, it seems to me that even the most radical among us make some exceptions. Furthermore, there seems to be a dilemma here regarding the nature of the Second Amendment. But first, let us address the property issue.
If we truly believe that an individual business owner may impose any requirement he desires on those who work at or patronize his business, based on the doctrine of sovereignty of private property, then what do we do when he refuses to hire or serve someone on the basis of skin color? After all, it is his property. He has every right to allow whomever he pleases to work there or to shop there. We might decide, "civil rights law" notwithstanding, that we will defend his right to make such decisions.
Perhaps, in a more fanciful vein, he decrees that no employee or customer may speak his mind, or even voice any form of opinion on any subject while on the premises. We might continue to defend him on the grounds that free speech hasn't been abridged, since employees may always choose to work elsewhere and customers may always choose not to patronize him.
In the same silly sense, only more so, he may decide that since it is his property, he will purchase slaves overseas, import them into this country, and bind them into indentured servitude on his property. Well, OK -- enough's enough.
Back down to Earth, please. I guess a person's private property is his to manage as he sees fit. If he chooses not to invite someone into his home, regardless of his reasons for doing so, that's one thing. But if he is running a business, one that employs individuals whose rights are carried with them, and if he serves the public, whose rights accompany them as well ... well, therein lies the dilemma referred to earlier. Where his property rights conflict with those individuals' rights, who shall prevail? Well, in the case of his home, he may reign supreme, but in the workplace I'd say at the very least the answer isn't quite as certain.
Now let's jump back to the Constitution again. We in the gun culture tend to treat the Second Amendment as sacrosanct. The extremists (among whom I proudly number myself) insist that it affirms the right of all the people to "keep and bear Arms" without restriction -- that the right, which predates and supersedes man-made laws; the right that safeguards all others; the right that is essential to preservation of the very species; the right of self defense through means necessary and appropriate to the task at hand "shall not be infringed." Period.
Since Clarke's proto-hominid discovered the bone as club, man has relied on tools for defense of self and others, lacking in his own makeup the speed of foot, armor effects of hide, or power of tooth and claw to defend himself and his family. The firearm is a product of man's true greatest weapon -- his brain -- implemented with the dexterity made possible by opposing thumbs; the firearm is a tool designed to accomplish a multiplicity of tasks efficiently and effectively. (And as is true of any tool, that same great weapon can elect to misuse it to accomplish less social purposes.)
Do we think that the right to keep and bear arms cannot be infringed only by the federal government? I certainly hope not. I hope we believe that all of the rights referred to in the first ten amendments to the Constitution extend to all the people in all circumstances; and the proscriptions described in the Bill of Rights extend to all governments formed of the people, be those governments local, state, or federal. Otherwise, of what use is the right itself?
If that is so, then a company which refuses to allow its employees (as members of "the people") and its customers (likewise) to bear arms on its premises is acting unconstitutionally -- at the very least, in the sense the dictionary describes as "not in accord with the constitution" or "contrary to the principles of the constitution". It was in that sense that I originally made the comment, though the more I thought about it, the more I became ensnared by the larger context.
So there we are. At the very least, there's a discussion point contained herein that might keep some of us occupied for a while. I note that an article under the banner of a prominent gun rights lawyers' group rejects the need to continue the argument over whether the Second Amendment refers to a right of the people or a right of the State, that such arguments are settled in favor of the people; it then asserts that we should get on with the business of discussions over what limits should be placed on the right to keep and bear arms, since no right is absolute. So apparently, there is room for disagreement, and I anticipate that there will be some.
Proponents of "concealed carry" licensing have seen the implacable opposition that the State puts forth to citizen self-defense capability. Government is more than happy to encourage as many people as possible to oppose those few who seek to restore our self-sufficiency. I submit that it is unconstitutional for businesses (as it is for governments) to prohibit the bearing of arms. I further submit that the gentleman in question deserves better treatment by the gun culture than he seems to be getting.
John Taylor is the Maryland Coordinator of the Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus.
A Juror's Creed: As an American juror, I will exercise my 1000 year old duty to arrive at a verdict, not just on the basis of the facts of a particular case or instructions I am given, but through my ability to reason, my knowledge of the Bill of Rights, and my individual conscience.
-- L. Neil Smith
Next to advance to the next article, or Index to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 21, February 2, 1997.