Oklahoma Attorney General responds to lawsuit over new gun law

Wednesday, November 10th 2004, 6:14 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The state is preparing to square off in federal court against Whirlpool Corp. and several other Oklahoma businesses who are trying to overturn a new gun law.

The law approved by the legislature last session would prohibit businesses from banning guns in locked vehicles on company property. It was scheduled to take effect Nov. 1, but U.S. Chief District Judge Sven Erik Holmes delayed its implementation.

In the latest brief filed by the state Attorney General's office on Monday, the state contends federal court is not the proper venue for the case. The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 23.

State Sen. Frank Shurden, co-author of the bill, said the measure was prompted when a paper company in southeast Oklahoma fired several employees when guns were found in their vehicles during a drug sweep.

Shurden, who authored the state's concealed carry law in 1995, said some employees may face dangerous situations driving to and from work and should be allowed to carry a weapon.

"A lot of these businesses have late-night shifts, and these employees are subject to being violated by any type of predator that may be armed," the Henryetta Democrat said.

Officials with Whirlpool did not respond to requests for comment, but in a complaint filed in federal court, the company says it should have the authority to prohibit items from being brought onto its property that may pose a danger to its employees.

"This includes the right to exclude individuals who possess firearms in locked vehicles on Whirlpool's property, including its parking lot," the complaint states.

Whirlpool Corporation employs about 1,500 workers at its Tulsa plant and has had a written policy in place since production began in 1996 that prohibits the possession of firearms anywhere on company property, according to the complaint.

Several Oklahoma companies, including Williams Companies, Inc. and Conoco-Phillips Co., have intervened as plaintiffs in the case.

Steven Broussard, a Tulsa attorney representing Williams and Conoco-Phillips, said the companies are concerned about the state dictating what kind of policies can be implemented on private property.

"People certainly have a right to keep and bear arms," Broussard said. "It's a question of property interest and whether we can control access to our private property."

The State Chamber also has filed an amicus, or "friend of the court," brief supporting Whirlpool's arguments that the law ought to be overturned.

"We believe that employers should have a choice as to whether they want to have guns on their premises or not," said Tulsa attorney David Strecker, who represents The State Chamber in the case.