The NRA vs. the Parking Lot

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