West Virginia domestic violence shelters are asking a judge to strike down a state law that forbids businesses from inquiring if workers, customers or visitors have a gun in their parked car.
Coming a week after a lethal incident of workplace gun violence in nearby Virginia, the lawsuit says West Virginia’s laws are an unconstitutional block on free speech — and dangerous too, especially for domestic violence shelter staff and clients.
The West Virginia federal lawsuit targets 2018 state laws saying property owners and managers cannot prohibit “any customer, employee, or invitee” from having a legally-owned firearm that’s out of view, inside a parked and locked car. Another provision says property owners and managers cannot ask about the presence or absence of a gun in the locked car. The law doesn’t apply to people’s houses and primary residences.
The provisions “override the rights of property owners to assess and decide for themselves how best to ensure safety on their own property,” said Thursday’s lawsuit, noting the state attorney general can fine up to $5,000 for every violation of the law.
Last week, a Virginia Beach, Va., public employee put in his resignation and then arrived at the city’s municipal center and fatally shot 12 people and injured four. It was the country’s second deadliest episode of workplace violence since 2000, behind a 2015 rampage in San Bernadino, Calif. where 14 people were murdered and 22 others were injured at an office party.
In the newly-filed West Virginia case, shelter workers argued the new laws make their jobs even more dangerous.
They say they commonly need to talk to drivers in cars they don’t recognize in order to learn their intentions. Sometimes it’s a lost driver, but other times it’s an abuser. Workers say it’s crucial for them to ask about guns.
Everytown Law, the legal arm of Everytown for Gun Safety — a gun control advocacy group founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg — represents the domestic violence shelter coalition.
More than 20 states have similar laws saying businesses, under certain circumstances, cannot forbid gun possession in their parking lots, Everytown Law said. Many of the other states have exceptions letting churches and religious organizations forbid guns on parking lot premises. West Virginia’s law is allegedly much more expansive and with fewer exceptions compared to the rest, the organization contends.
Virginia and California, the site of the two deadliest workplace gun sprees, are not included in the states that bar property owners from forbidding guns on parking lots.
This is the first lawsuit to challenge a state law on parking lot gun rules in more than 10 years, according to an Everytown announcement.
The lawsuit was filed a day ahead of Gun Violence Awareness Day.
There were 500 workplace homicides in 2016, which included 394 shooting deaths, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 417 homicides the year before and 354 came from shootings, the agency said. In 2017, there were 458 workplace homicides, consisting of 351 shootings. When the Society for Human Resource Management recently ran a poll on workplace safety, one in seven people said they do not feel safe at work.
Joyce Yedlosky, team coordinator for the shelters challenging the West Virginia law, said workers at domestic violence shelters must “be able to make their own decisions about how best to keep their clients and staff safe. By threatening them with liability, this law deprives shelters of an important tool they use to keep survivors of domestic violence safe from firearm-related violence and intimidation.”
Curtis Johnson, press secretary for West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morisey, said, “At this time, the Office has not been served with the complaint. Once the Office has been served, we will carefully review and analyze the matter.”