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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/12/11/wguns11.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/12/11/ixworld.html

Gun owners claim right to take their rifles to work
By Alec Russell in Valliant and Scott Heiser in Washington
(Filed: 11/12/2004)
Gun-toting, tough-talking, and anti-establishment to his muddy boot straps, Larry Mullens is an Oklahoman "good ole boy" personified.

He is also fast becoming a classic American folk hero as he takes centre stage in a revolt of gun owners that is reverberating in boardrooms across the United States. The son of one of the last of the old-style Wild West ranchers, he first fired a gun as a boy.

Now he carries his trusty Winchester in his pick-up on his way to work at a sawmill in case he comes across a coyote, a wild dog or even a wolf attacking his small herd of steers. Last year he lost five calves to wild dogs.

So it was perhaps not surprising that he was enraged when his previous employer fired him for breaking company security rules that banned guns from the company car park after they found a .38 pistol stashed behind the seat of his pick-up.

No one could have predicted that two years later he and his backers would claim an extraordinary revenge - a law allowing employees to keep guns in locked cars on company property.

Just two days after a gunman jumped on to a stage in Columbus, Ohio, and shot dead a heavy metal guitarist and three others before himself being shot dead, it might seem surprising to hear that elsewhere a state is extending gun owners' rights.

But in Oklahoma, as across much of rural America, gun control is seen as the work of naive and meddling minds.

"Having a gun is no different from having a hammer. It is just a tool," said Jerry Ellis, a Democratic representative in the state legislature who drafted and pushed through the law.

"Here, gun control is when you hit what you shoot at."

The passage of the law resounded like one of Larry Mullens's Winchester rifle shots through the boardrooms of America.

In recent years companies have been implementing anti-gun policies in an attempt to cut down on violence at the work place.

Now they fear the Oklahoman ruling will encourage the powerful gun lobby all over America to try to roll back the reforms.

Paul Viollis, the president of Risk Control Strategies, is appalled at the new law. Every week there are 17 murders at the work place across America, and most of them involve guns, he says.

"It's the most irresponsible piece of legislation I've seen in my 25 years in the business," he said. "I would invite anyone who'd allow people to bring firearms to work to write the first death notice.

"The argument that emp-loyees should be allowed to bring firearms to work because they'll be locked in the car is so absurd it barely merits a response."

Several companies are trying to block the law. Two days before it was due to come into force last month, a judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing it from taking effect. The next hearing is on Tuesday.

But the firms are fighting on unfavourable terrain. Contrary to the widespread impression that the nation is polarised between gun-loving Republicans and more liberal Democrats, in the heartland gun control spans party lines. The law passed unanimously in Oklahoma's Senate and by 92 votes to four in the House.

Mike Wilt, a Republican, voted against the law, not on security grounds but because he believes the state should not dictate gun policies to property owners. "Here in Oklahoma the issue of guns is not a wedge issue," he said. "We all go hunting together and we all tend to have the same beliefs."

Two weeks ago one of the principal plaintiffs, Whirlpool, a prominent supplier of white goods, withdrew from the case. It said it was satisfied that its ban on guns on its property was not affected. The gun lobby suspects that the decision had more to do with talk of a boycott of the firm.

Nowhere do feelings run more strongly than in Valliant, a small town where, on Oct 1, 2002, at the Weyerhaeuser paper mill, the row began.

Mr Mullens was one of four on-site employees who were sacked after guns were found in their vehicles in contravention of a new company ruling. They are convinced it was just an excuse to lay off workers and insist they did not know about the new security laws.

The firm, which is locked in litigation with the fired employees, rejects the charges and says everyone knew it had a zero-tolerance approach to security. "You don't need a gun to be safe at Weyerhaeuser," said Jim Keller, the firm's senior vice-president. "Safety is our number one priority.

"It's more important to tell someone they don't have a job than to have to tell a family that their loved one is not coming home from work. This is about safety; it's not about guns."

But the people of Valliant, where the high school closes down during the prime week in the deer-hunting season to allow pupils to shoot, will not be easily assuaged.

James Burrell, an assistant at the local gun shop, said: "Most people around here think the new law is already a right."

Mr Mullens has now found a new job, where his employer is less pernickety.

"People tell me to 'stick to my guns' because they are all carrying one too," he said. "The bottom line is that it is our constitutional right to have a gun in the car."

 

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It's just a tool.

A man needs to keep a few tools in the trunk.........
 
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