What gun control advocates can learn from smoking ban

Updated 11:37 AM EDT, Thu October 15, 2015

Story highlights

300 professors at the University of Texas in Austin signed a petition opposing guns in classrooms

Andre Spicer: The ban of cigarettes in workplaces is a lesson for gun control advocates

Editor’s Note: Andre Spicer is a professor of organizational behavior at Cass Business School, City University London. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

After the recent mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and the killing of an 8-year-old girl by an 11-year-old boy in Tennessee, some people have had enough with gun violence.

The rebellion has started in the most unusual place: Texas.

Three-hundred professors at the University of Texas in Austin have signed a petition opposing guns in classrooms. This is because the university has put in place a regulation that allows students and staff to carry concealed weapons while on campus.

Andre Spicer
Andre Spicer

Daniel Hamermesh, a high-profile economist at the school, is so concerned with this new rule that he has quit. In a letter to the university president, he writes, “With a huge group of students, my perception is that the risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law.”

Hamermesh is just one man, but he is not alone. Many educators worry about working in places where people are carrying guns. Why would America want to turn their college campuses into “armed camps“? Students at the University of Texas are also upset, and some plan to protest the campus carry law by carrying sex toys instead of weapons on campus.

But with gun reform ideas dead upon arrival, some people are asking why they should tolerate guns in their workplace when they don’t tolerate, for example, smoking.

In the past, smokers were free to indulge in their chosen vice almost anywhere they pleased. Today, that’s no longer the case. Even a few short years ago, being barred from smoking in public places was thought to be a serious infringement on individual freedom. But today, lighting up in a restaurant can spark a sense of moral outrage from fellow diners.

You can walk into many restaurants and diners across America if you are carrying a loaded weapon and find yourself welcomed with open arms. But if you happen to be carrying a lit cigarette, you will be quickly shown the door.

The main driver of smoking bans was concern about human health. Naturally, then, shouldn’t the United States ban guns for health reasons, too? After all, just look at the statistics on gun-related deaths.

The fear of workplace shootings might seem overblown. But according to the U.S. Labor Department, 307 workers were killed in 2014 in shootings. People are five times more likely to be killed at work when firearms are allowed.

In about half of the United States, employees have the legal right to bring their gun to work. Many employers have objected, but have had their hand forced by the law.

After the introduction of the “bring your gun to work” legislation in Tennessee, a senior executive at FedEx told lawmakers that “a private homeowner is able to tell his guests whether they can bring a gun into his yard, [so] FedEx should have the right to decide what it will and will not allow on its private property.”

Employers are concerned they could be legally liable for shooting deaths at work. In some companies this has created a tense environment. One employment lawyer says he now shows up to termination meetings wearing Kevlar body armor.

It is not just the bosses who are worried. Some employees also feel unsafe when guns are present in the workplace. They are worried their workplace could be the scene of the next mass shooting.

They are right to be worried. Half of the most high-profile mass shootings in recent years have happened in workplaces or schools. There were 154 shootings in hospitals between 2001 and 2011, with 20% of the victims being staff.

As long as guns are allowed in the workplace, employees will run an increased risk of getting shot on the job. For some, this is the price they are willing to pay for freedom to carry arms. Others think this price is far too much.

For proponents of gun control, there’s still hope. Consider how quickly attitudes have changed toward cigarettes in the last decade. Smoking, like shooting, is a pleasurable hobby for some people. But unless it is an essential part of a job, bringing a gun to work is equivalent to demanding to smoke cigarettes in the office. So how long will Americans tolerate guns in the workplace?

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