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Guns and Rebars: Dealing with Firearms at Work

It came as a surprise to most of the 33 contractors surveyed, when they were asked about company policy concerning the carrying of firearms onto the job site. “Why have firearms?” and “Get real!” was the general drift of their responses. For the three contractors contacted in Michigan, however, the question was highly relevant because their state legislature had just passed a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons by obtaining a simple permit.

As one Michigan man explained, “If you are not from Michigan, you may not know that this law was real scan by the Republicans. A group called The People Who Care About Kids Committee collected a quarter of a million signatures – a record number – on a petition opposing the bill. But the lawmakers proposing the bill had a $1 million appropriation into the measure, knowing referendums aren’t allowed on laws that include spending – even if, as was the case here, the appropriations measure is not related to the substance of the bill. In other words, they got around the democratic process and the folks here are real mad about it.”

However the measure was passed, and without being partisan on this issue of the right to bear arms, etc., let’s take a look at how much of an issue the carrying and even use of firearms on the job site really is. At the moment, not much, according to the cross-section canvassed. Nobody reported anyone actually using a firearm.

Two reported threats to use firearms that they had in their trucks on site and
a Colorado contractor reported someone
brandishing a firearm with intent.
“I once had to stand between two guys,
one was an owner who was not paying
money as promised to a contractor. So
the contractor went and got his gun. I
talked to him and said, ‘Don’t do it,
because you’ll just spend the rest of your
life in jail.’ And I told the owner, ‘You
better pay him, otherwise you’re just
going to end up dead.’ So the guy paid.”

Of the 13 contractors interviewed in
states that permit the carrying of concealed
or open weapons, only three permitted
employees to do so. Two reported
weapons being carried onto sites/left
in vehicles even though company policy
did not permit it.

According to Peter Spanos, general
counsel for the Association of the Wall
and Ceiling Industries—International,
“Other states (like Texas, Arizona and
Nevada) have laws similar to Michigan’s.
In Arizona, a “concealed carry” permit
may be obtained by (1) being over 18
years of age; (2) having no felony convictions;
and (3) completing an eight hour
gun-safety course. Conspicuous
weapons (such as a belt holster, gun
rack, etc.) may be carried with no permit.

“Texas has a similar statute but within
the statute is a caveat allowing businesses
to forbid the carrying of concealed
weapons onto their premises, regardless
of the existence of a permit.

“Under Nevada law, a gun permit holder
is authorized to carry the weapon anyplace
except a few specific public buildings
(like courts, airports and schools).
However, private buildings can put up a
sign forbidding anyone from carrying a
concealed weapon on the property”

Most states do not permit the carrying
of weapons, and obviously, contractors
and/or general contractors in those states
(as well as 10 out of the 13 interviewed
in states that do permit the carrying of
weapons) expressly forbid weapons on
the job site.

Why Carry?

The way most contractors felt about the
subject was, “What purpose would be
served by having firearms on the site?”

A Nebraskan explained that “Everybody
has to carry one, that’s the rule, it’s the
only way to survive out here!” He was
joking, of course, because his company Busting Chops vs.
does not allow firearms to be carried.

But one of the Michigan contractors,
who is adamantly against firearms on
site, answered the question inadvertently
when he mentioned “in Michigan,
there have been quite a few instances of
people in factories and elsewhere shooting
each other.”

No doubt, if someone is carrying when
someone who has gone over the edge
walks into a building and starts firing off
at random, then the tables can be turned
and lives saved. It hasn’t happened yet,
but it did off the Alcan not too long ago,
when a rogue bear attacked tourists.
One tourist happened to have a weapon
and killed the bear while it was feasting
on its fourth victim (who subsequently
lived). And the more people who are
crazed by psychiatric and street drugs
(all the school shooters over the last few
years were on Schedule II psychiatric
drugs), the more likelihood there is of
these kinds of events occurring.

But in the real world, right now, on construction
sites, it hasn’t happened, and
the need for firearms on site is hotly contested
by almost all of those interviewed.

“I can’t imagine a situation where you’d
want to have guns on people unless they
were working in inner city Chicago or
something,” states an Iowan. “I’m actually
much more concerned about drugs
and the theft that often results to support
the habit, than I am about guns.
Drugs are prevalent in our society, and
we’ve instituted a drug policy now in our
company and are negotiating with our
unions to have the ability to administer
random, post accident and reasonablesuspicion
drug testing.”

Busting Chops vs. Eating Bullets

One group of contractors felt there were
enough weapons on site already. Says a contractor in Colorado: “You’ve already got weapons that you’re carrying in your tool belt; what the hell do you need a firearm for? A hammer is a hell of a weapon. A piece of rebar makes a hell of a spear.”

Another Colorado contractor agrees:
“Generally people have tools all around
them and use them as weapons when
they get mad, because they do often fight.
One guy grabs a two-by-four and starts
swinging, and the other guy defends himself
with a level. The intention isn’t to kill,
but to harm and it usually ends up all
right. So there’s no need to escalate confrontations
to a lethal level.”

There’s enough to get uptight about on a
work site, according to several other contractors,
without adding firearms into the
mix. “Most tradesmen are an interesting
bunch but they aren’t wrapped too tight,
so permitting firearms on the job site is
just asking for trouble,” says a Maryland

“We have enough of an issue with potential
conflicts on projects between individuals,
trades or union versus nonunion,”
says a contractor from Idaho.
“More often than not, it’s schedule pressures
with two companies wanting to be
in the same area at the same time, and
each trying to assert their will over the
other. Usually, it’s just threats that pass
around, sometimes it’s fists, a two-by-four
or a knife. Generally, somebody in a
supervisory capacity steps in to cool their
heads before they break them, so no real
violence or harm occurs. Having people
armed would not bring about any good.
It’s not a deterrent to violent behavior but
would escalate the scene.”

A contractor from Illinois expands on the
same theme: “I’ve seen tempers lost on
construction sites that two hours or two
days later, the person thinks better of it—
such as when two trades clash over schedules.
It seems that every job we get has to
be done a day sooner than the year
before, and it just keeps crunching up
tighter and tighter. So, in a lot of cases it’s
just different trades trying to do their
thing in the same space in the building
instead of having a little elbow room. Or
tempers flare because somebody smacks
a hole through some drywall you’ve just
finished. People are very territorial about
their work and the more finished it is, the
more territorial they become because they
know it’s going to be on their punch list,
not the other guys.

“And then some folks just don’t play well
with other guys and invariably get into
little rhubarbs over the silliest little
things. You’re also working in less-thanideal
conditions, it’s too hot, cold or
dusty, so it doesn’t take much to set off
folks when somebody says or does
something that they take offense to, and
it doesn’t take a whole lot to get a little
shouting match going on at the jobsite.
Usually somebody else has a cooler But We’re Hunting
head and walks over and says, ‘Hey
guys, cool it, maybe you’re both right
but you’re both wrong right now, so
shut up and go back to your own corners.
And when you can make like nice
guys, come out and shake hands and go
back to work.’

“I have been involved myself a couple
of times in screaming and hollering—
it’s the only way you can get some people
to pay attention. And I have had to
step in between two guys who were getting
ready to square off, they were both
cocked and ready to go. But I’ve been
in the trade 28 years and never seen
anybody actually get into a fistfight.
With all the tools they’re carrying, I can’t
imagine anyone needs a gun to shoot
anybody with. Violence isn’t going to
solve anything anyway, and I certainly
can’t see where they would need to protect
themselves with a weapon on the
job site. Some folks in the construction
world don’t have the most savory of
backgrounds to start off with, and to
allow them to carry weapons on the job
is asking for trouble. And for sure, I
have never seen anything that was
worth shooting anybody over! You get
a little smarter as you get older and you
tend to calm down a little, too. But the
young men tend to be a little more hotheaded.
So to put a pistol in their hands
would be foolish and unnecessary.”

So the question is this: Does one allow
firearms to be carried for self-defense
against a potential threat that has yet to
manifest itself and thereby open up the
many arguments that flare up on job
sites, to potentially escalate to a lethal
level? Most sensible people can work
out the numbers and draw their own

But We’re Hunting

Two contractors brought up the question
of hunting (and therefore the
right to bear arms, etc.). “Firearms on
site are strictly forbidden. I would never
allow them,” states a contractor
from Louisiana. “Take a hunter here in
the rural South. If he brings his gun to
work, he keeps it in his pickup truck
and that’s where it stays. I really don’t
see the use of a firearm at work unless
he’s going hunting in the afternoon,
which they often do. But as far as taking
it to the jobsite primary, into the
work area, no way!”

A Nebraskan says he “used to carry a
shotgun in the company vehicle 22
ago, as I often drove along back roads
and shot pheasant on the way to

However, as the Louisiana contractor
went on to mention, “A couple of
years back a fight escalated. Some, who
were not hunters, had firearms in their
trucks and threatened to bring them
out. Luckily they didn’t, but they were
fired from the company anyway.” And
as the Iowan also added, “Those were
different times.”

They certainly were. The right to bear
arms by sane people is one thing, but
we are facing today an epidemic of
people carrying and using guns insanely
because they are crazed by
drugs. That wasn’t a scenario even imagined
by the Founding Fathers.

The Pen Is Mightier than the Gun

But as most contractors are against
firearms on site, they should know that
even if their state already permits
firearms, or if their legislature “does a
The Pen Is Mightier Michigan,” they simply have to ensure
than the Gun that their employee/policy manual forbids
firearms to be taken to work. As
Spanos explains, “In these states [that
permit carrying weapons], employers
nevertheless may include a restriction
against workplace weapons in their
handbooks or policies and procedures
manual. Some employees contend that
they have the ‘right’ to carry weapons in
the workplace, but the employer’s rules
are (in our opinion) no different than
forbidding any potentially dangerous or
disruptive behavior that is otherwise
legal (such as alcohol consumption) in
the workplace.

“Here in the South, this is a longstanding
problem and we generally advise that
the employer can have a policy that prohibits
weapons, including firearms for
which an individual has a permit, being
brought into or onto its property.”

Finally, as one Californian pointed out,
“Even if the state of California would
allow carrying firearms, it wouldn’t be
permitted on our job sites from a safety
standpoint.” Spanos confirms that “Finally,
OSHA now mandates Workplace
Violence Policies, which normally include
complete prohibitions against
firearms at work.”

And to bring it full circle, that’s exactly
how the Michigan contractors are dealing
with the whole issue, as one of them
explains: “When the new law was
brought to our attention, we decided to
revise the employee manual and are
receiving legal advice right now about
adding a paragraph stating that firearms
will not be allowed on our premises or
job sites.”

It’s simple, safe and effective.

About the Author

Steven Ferry is a free-lance writer for the
construction industry. He is based in
Clearwater, Fla.

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