You Can Blame Lawyers

The Brady Campaign asks why Starbucks allows customers to carry guns, but doesn’t allow employees. That’s a good question. I think they should allow their employees to carry if they are legally entitled to do so! But I have no plan to make that part of this debate. A restaurant can rule its employees have to wear a uniform if they want to, even though it would be absurd to demand the same thing of customers. There’s a difference between customers and employees. But you can blame a lot of this on lawyers.

The primary reason that businesses have weapons policies is CYA. Businesses are far less liable for the actions of their customers than they are for the actions of employees when on the job acting as agents of the corporation. This doesn’t have much specifically to do with guns, it’s just a general fact. Your company has far more liability issues if you get into an accident driving a company car on company business than they would be if you hit someone on the way to work in your own vehicle. That doesn’t necessarily say anything about the danger of driving. It doesn’t have to make sense to get a jury award. Juries are sucker for a sympathetic client and a big, rich corporation. If that wasn’t the case, John Edwards never would have been rich enough to pay off a staffer to take the fall for a baby he sired with his mistress.

It comes down to this. If a pizza delivery guy pops an armed robber, we’d all completely agree that he was acting in self-defense, and that such an act would not be a misuse of firearms. But suppose the family of the armed robber decides to sue the pizza shop? What if the pizza shop allowed their employee to be armed? Doesn’t that make the shop more liable? For a mom and pop shop, they probably value the lives of their employee (often a relative) more than they worry about being sued. They have insurance for that anyway. But for a large chain pizza joint, they have entire HR departments that fret and worry about how the company may get sued. They get blamed for stuff like that, especially if an HR policy, or lack of one, becomes an issue in a lawsuit. Corporate HR departments are risk averse and very eager to avoid blame for anything. Blame in a lawsuit is far worse than dealing with a dead employee, who quite honestly, has more of a case against the armed robber than they do against the employer. Corporate HR would also like to inform your family of the wonderful death benefit they provide for employees.

The fact is that the life of an employee means far less to a big corporation than than the possibility of a giant lawsuit, especially one that results in finger pointing at corporate headquarters. They might make a public face about being concerned about violence in the workplace, but the real concern is liability. Everyone knows that someone intent on violence isn’t going to suddenly remember the corporate policy and change his mind. That’s the elephant in the room. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is having a workplace violence policy that forbids employees from having effective means of self-defense shields the corporation from liability for an employee acting in self-defense. Dead employees are an acceptable sacrifice on that altar. You can blame lawyers.

10 thoughts on “You Can Blame Lawyers”

  1. I like how the Bradies have become so desperate they are now advocating the carrying of firearms.

    I imagine it’s an attempt to get our side more involved, but I doubt it will work.

  2. Media coverage of this Starbuck’s issue is really waning. That’s great.

  3. What’s funny is that Helmke and crew aren’t learning. This PR campaign did not work for them … and now they are digging deeper.

    They don’t understand the first rule of holes: When you find yourself in one, quit digging.

  4. I don’t think they are in a hole. Signatures keep coming in. I think this is about fundraising as much as it is about Starbucks. If they can get some donations out of the 33,000 signatures they claim to have for their petition this is a win for them even if they didn’t flip Starbucks.

  5. Sebastian,

    This is a well written response. You are straight up right! It is all about big corporate lawsuits. We have a policy of no guns at my company, and it has all to do with legal costs.
    You hit this one dead on the center.
    Also, I have commented that while Starbucks is not happy about the now 33,000 nation wide signatures for the Brady measure, Starbucks also knows there is 4-5 million active NRA members that could rain down hell on it. 33,000 versus 5 million + ?
    I think they are smart in sticking to their guns. (where it’s legal)

  6. Companies aren’t the only ones that use this logic. It is alive and well in the military as well. As the Ft Hood shooting made evident, most military members are disarmed on base (on some bases you can’t even own weapons in your own home; they must be in the armory).

    This is largely because if a military member with PTSD goes postal and shoots his family, and the base commander allowed his personnel to have weapons on base, then the commander will probably be reprimanded for having poor judgment and his career is over. Likewise, if the commander implements a selective arming of unit personnel program and starts to arm up folks and Sgt Snuffy has a ND or AD, then the commander will be hit for poor judgment and his career is over..

    On the other hand, if someone (like Maj Hassan) gets onto the base and shoots the place up then it is probably going to be considered (1) an intelligence failure or (2) an unavoidable tragedy. The commander is unlikely to be held responsible.

    You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what most commanders will choose to do… Corporations are not the only risk-averse entities out there!

  7. I wonder how many employees of companies with such policies carry anyway.

    In general, I’m not quite sure of the laws of various states regarding signs that “forbid” carrying firearms on the premises. I completely understand and will always comply with specific and direct requests that I leave for any reason. Nevertheless, I’m not sure whether the law requires me to interpret a sign telling the general public they cannot carry firearms into such an establishment as a direct order whose violation constitutes criminal trespass.

    Can anyone comment on what form “no guns” language must take to have any kind of lawful weight for your respective state?

  8. It’s all well and good to blame the lawyers, but query how many non-lawyers would be comfortable with a policy of not holding employers liable for the acts or omissions of their employees. Forget the example of a Pizza Hut deliveryman shooting a robber in self-defense; what if the Pizza hut employee was the aggressor? Should Pizza Hut be able to wash its hands and say “we didn’t shoot that guy, our employee did?”. If that were the policy most voting non-lawyers wanted, it would be the law whether The Lawyers liked it or not.

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