Can an employer fire an employee for carrying a gun against the employer’s orders? Yes. Can the employee sue the employer for defending himself? Well, he can try, but I’ve not yet seen a case where the fired employee prevailed in such a lawsuit. Here’s why.
Instructive Example — Case One
In 2014, mlive.com reported, “A federal appeals court has affirmed Walgreens’ rights in firing a pharmacist who shot at armed robbers using his legally concealed handgun. Jeremy Hoven was fired from a Walgreens in Benton Harbor [Michigan] in 2011, eight days after shooting at armed robbers who entered the store during his overnight shift. Walgreens said he violated the company’s ‘non-escalation’ policy.
“Hoven was working in the back of the store when he noticed a manager being pushed toward him by one of the armed robbers. He tried to dial 911, but one of the robbers jumped over the counter and pointed a gun at him. Hoven’s attorney said the alleged robber tried to shoot at Hoven, but the suspect’s gun jammed. Hoven pulled his handgun and fired shots at the suspect. No injuries occurred in the incident captured by surveillance video. Benton Township Police said there have been no arrests in the case.
“In a 3-0 decision Monday, June 2, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said there are no public policies protecting Hoven. He filed a lawsuit claiming he was terminated in violation of public policy for exercising his rights of self-defense, defense of others and to carry a concealed weapon. A federal judge in 2012 granted Walgreens’ motion for dismissal before the case could go to trial. Hoven didn’t dispute that he was an at-will employee who could be fired at any time for any, or no, reason. He became a full-time pharmacist for Walgreens in 2006. Hoven experienced an armed robbery at the pharmacy in 2007. He then asked the company to improve its security systems, but Walgreens didn’t comply. Hoven received a concealed pistol license and carried a handgun in his pants pocket during his shifts.”
The story continued, “Michigan’s Concealed Pistol Licensing Act says that an employer shall not prohibit an employee from receiving and carrying a concealed weapon with a license, but also says the law ‘does not prohibit an employer from prohibiting an employee from carrying a concealed pistol in the course of his or her employment with that employer.’ Hoven argued the statute is unconstitutional and ‘improperly delegates authority to private employers to regulate, restrict and eliminate an individual’s fundamental right to bear arms for self-defense and defense of others’ by denying permit holders their right to carry in the workplace for self-defense.”
However, “The Court of Appeals said the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I of the Michigan Constitution prevent some state interference with an individual’s right to bear arms and engage in self-defense, but ‘they do not prevent interference with these rights by private actors.’ Appeals Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote that the Michigan Self-Defense Act doesn’t confer an unlimited right to engage in self-defense — it only provides a potential defense to criminal prosecution by the state.”
More Concealed Carry at Work Cases
Losing your job for defending your life with a gun carried in defiance of company policy may not necessarily render you unemployable. Consider the following concealed carry at work examples.
In 2017 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Jennifer Wertz, a young mother of three, was working her shift behind the counter at a major gas station when an armed robber entered and pointed his weapon at her. She promptly drew her own handgun and shot the man in the chest, decisively ending the encounter. He survived his chest wound, and she emerged unscathed. However, the company suspended her for two weeks without pay and said she would probably lose her job, since the chain had a “no guns for employees” policy.
Ms. Wertz told the press, “I’d rather be alive and have to find another job. So I was thinking about it, and I realized it was either shoot or be shot, so I decided to protect myself. I will continue to protect myself and my family.”
Her mother took the matter to GoFundMe, and an outraged public promptly donated almost $75,000 to the courageous young woman who had fought back. Sounds like a happy ending to me.
Some three decades ago, right after Florida passed its landmark “shall issue” carry license law, Mark Yuhr became the first identified “save” from that reform legislation. Driving a taxi in Miami, a thug robbed him at gunpoint. When it became apparent that the robber was going to murder him because he hadn’t gotten enough money, Mark drew his own newly licensed Colt Government Model 1911 and emptied it into the gunman before the latter could fire his stolen S&W 9mm pistol.
Authorities ruled it a justifiable homicide and no lawsuits followed. However, the taxi company frowned on armed drivers and Mark ended up separated from his employment. When word got out on what happened, an outraged public swamped Mark with job offers, and he entered what would become a distinguished career in professional security. And he would later use the same Colt .45 to win another deadly battle against an armed criminal.
Public opinion can dissuade the employing authority from enforcing its “no-gun” policy against employees. In Pennsylvania, a crazed gunman entered a psychiatric clinic and shot his case worker to death. He then turned his gun on Dr. Lee Silverman, wounding him. Silverman, however, shot back with his own little Seecamp .32 ACP; wounding the gunman badly enough to stop the budding murder spree.
The National Review reported, “District attorney Jack Whelan said, ‘If Dr. Silverman did not have the firearm and did not utilize the firearm, he’d be dead today. And other people would be dead.’ In fact, the doctor had breached the facility’s ‘no firearms’ policy by carrying a weapon with him to work. The facility released a statement saying that it looked forward to his ‘return to serving patients at our hospital.’”
For obvious reasons, neither Combat Handguns nor I will advise you to violate employment policy. Prosecutors can charge those who carry concealed in gun-free zones. In fact, folks have been warned not to do so beforehand. At the same time, these cases of people who carried against policy and would have died otherwise cannot be ignored. This collision of rights is what makes the matter so worthy of discussion.
This article is from the July/August 2018 issue of Combat Handguns Magazine. Digital and physical copies available at OutdoorGroupStore.com.
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