The NRA vs. the Parking Lot

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Charley
Reese’s recent
article on the right to keep and bear arms
has prompted me to
address the main issue that prevents me from being a member of the
NRA: they do not have a clear understanding of rights. I find their
goals laudable yet their unprincipled approaches are quite problematic,
as I shall show.

The National
Rifle Association has embarked on a series of libertinist attacks
on private property rights. The latest debacle is a proposed Florida
law that would not allow employers to ban firearms from their parking
lots. The legislature is thinking that this law somehow enhances
a citizen’s rights but the exact opposite will happen. For libertarians,
there is no doubt that there exists
the right to self-defense
. Yet this is not the issue at hand.
In this case, the NRA is claiming that rights sometimes conflict
and that the right of a person to keep a gun in his car, when the
car is in the parking lot of the employer, is superior or more important
than the company’s right to establish parking lot policies:

“We
are a mobile society. People drive to and from work,” said Marion
Hammer, lobbyist for the NRA who helped craft the legislation. Business
owners “have no more right to tell you what you can and can’t have
in your vehicle than they have a right to tell you what you can
and can’t have in your home.”

Excuse me,
Ms. Hammer, but you are wrong. They indeed have that right. Just
as a homeowner can decide who enters his house so can the business
owner enact any policy they want on their property. This is also
not the first time that the NRA has confused the notion of rights.
Last year, they opposed a court
ruling
that decided that AOL could fire employees who were keeping
guns in their vehicles. Again, the NRA’s response is troubling:

Self-defense
took a big blow this week when the Utah Supreme Court upheld the
right of America Online (AOL), America’s largest on-line service
provider, to fire three employees whose firearms were stored in
the trunks of their cars in the parking lot of an AOL call center
in Ogden, Utah. In a decision that diminishes rights guaranteed
under both the Utah and the U.S. Constitution, the court acknowledged
the individual right to keep and bear arms, but said the right
of a business to regulate its own property is more important!

Complying
with this decision could potentially cost an employee his or her
life – violent criminals certainly aren’t going to obey such
a ban. It may also diminish employees’ abilities to hunt or target
shoot after work.

This ban is happening
on private property and it becomes a condition for employment; it
is not at all different from uniform codes, standards and procedures,
codes of conduct, honor codes or anything else that a company might
require employees to abide by. It is nothing more than a legitimate
contractual obligation. And, unlike government bans and regulation,
AOL’s policy extends only to property that it owns.

The NRA also
seems to believe that there is hierarchy of rights and the right
to bear arms is more important than others. Nonsense! Rights cannot
overlap. Rights are not “more important” than others. The NRA correctly
advocates that the government cannot and should not infringe on
the people’s right to keep and bear arms. This right is in no way
different from any other – it stems from property. In my home, I
can keep and bear butterflies, goats, an ace of spades and firearms
if I have obtained them legitimately. A company’s private parking
is the same as a private residence. The law proposed would make
parking lots a little less private, increasing state control. Thus,
the NRA is not coherent in their support of rights.

Let the market
decide instead what policies are beneficial. If companies that enact
bans in their own parking lots might lose workers and they shall
suffer the consequences. They have a perfectly legitimate right
to control anything and everything within their boundaries. The
employee who does not like it can quit and find another job. And
the same goes for shopping malls, restaurants, and any privately
owned property: if they do not want guns in their places of business,
so be it. To undermine property rights is to aid the state in its
inexorable criminal quest.

If passed,
this Florida law would be detrimental for property rights. If, however,
it does not pass, then the NRA has supported a campaign that goes
against its objectives. How? People are talking about it. Owners
and managers might start reviewing their firearm policies due to
the publicity that the issue has received. Where before they were
not prohibited some owners could very well ban them from parking
lots now. Few businesses had considered this before; not anymore.
Thanks, NRA.

The NRA does
provide useful firearm safety and hunting courses, as well as several
others accredited certifications. Furthermore, there are times when
the NRA is thoroughly correct in defending legitimate property rights,
as was the case when they won an injunction on behalf of dozens
of New Orleans residents whose firearms were illegally confiscated
after Katrina. I am not at all urging NRA members to reconsider
their membership. However, as one who had initially considered joining
the NRA, these issues made me look for alternatives such as JPFO,
which has a more principled stance on rights in general.

Ultimately,
The NRA is making a great error when confusing illegitimate, forceful,
government-sponsored disarmament with the peaceful exercise of the
right to contract. Private property lets us keep our guns. Do not
let your confusion take either one away.

November
4, 2005

Manuel
Lora [send him mail]
is a freelance TV producer and multimedia specialist in New Orleans.

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