On June 26, 2008, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision confirming that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution protects an individual’s right to keep and bear firearms. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court interpreted the language of the Second Amendment for the first time in nearly 70 years and struck down the District’s 32-year-old ban on handguns and trigger-lock requirements for other firearms.
This decision already has generated significant national attention and debate. Although the Court formally recognized the individual right to bear arms in Heller, the majority’s decision does not define the scope of that right. Thus, the full meaning and ramifications of this decision will be unclear for many years to come.
That said, we can state what the Heller decision does not mean. From an employment law perspective, the Heller decision should have no effect on an employer’s ability to promulgate weapons or workplace violence policies that ban handguns or other types of weapons from its facilities. Constitutional protections are not applicable to private sector employers, absent some form of state action. For the same reason that an employee may not rely on the free speech protections of the First Amendment as a defense to discipline issued by a private sector employer, an employee cannot rely on Heller and the Second Amendment as a defense to a violation of an employer’s weapons or workplace violence policy. As for public sector employers, Justice Scalia, writing for the Court, expressly noted that the right recognized in Heller "is not unlimited" and that the decision should not "cast doubt" on restrictions barring firearms near schools or in government buildings. If the government may lawfully prohibit the carrying of handguns in government buildings, public sector employers also may have reasonable employment policies regarding handguns and other weapons.
Thus, employers can enjoy the national debate and discussion following the Heller decision while knowing that it should not impact their employment policies. The "RIght to bear Guns at Work" was the subject of a post on CNN’s Small Business noting that some state laws provide for a right of employees to bear arms in workplace settings. Pennsylvania has no law that creates a right for employees to bring firearms to work.