Carrying firearms may be prohibited for city employees

Government

by Terry Rogers

 

 

At a recent workshop prior to the regular meeting, Milford City Council discussed a proposed change to the city’s personnel manual that would prohibit employees from carrying weapons while on the job. The discussion was necessary as Jamesha Williams, Director of Human Resources, had been approached by city staff about the issue. Upon researching the matter, she found that the city did not have a policy covering the issue.

“Of course, as noted in my memo, gun control is a controversial, complicated and delicate topic,” Williams said. “But our recommendation for the weapons-free workplace, there’s a few items there. A safer work environment and the ability to maintain control over city facilities. We also did a review, just to take a look at what the Milford School District had and the Greater Milford Boys and Girls Club as our employees are on those premises often. And they do prohibit firearms on their premises. Also, our Parks and Recreation department would be defined as a safe recreation zone because they do have programs for children on their athletic fields. That’s why we came to the determination to have a weapon free workplace. We just want to have a discussion to get your feedback and thoughts since this item isn’t addressed in the city code.”

Councilman Todd Culotta thanked Williams for providing extensive information to council prior to the meeting but stated that he had some issues with the recommendations. He pointed out that of the other municipalities she surveyed, only Smyrna had a gun free policy while others either had no policy or allowed employees with concealed carry permits to have them in the workplace.

“It’s my belief that the individual has a right to protect themselves,” Councilman Culotta said. “If they so choose to do that with a concealed carry permit, then we should allow that. And I don’t believe we need a policy when there isn’t one. To argue the safer work environment, anytime weapons are prohibited in a public setting or any setting, that becomes a gun free zone. And most mass shootings happen in gun free zones. Just look at history and I’ll use a statistic here that’s a little old, but from 1993 to 2015, almost 93 percent of mass shootings happened in a gun free zone. In the time that you would need to defend yourself from a threat, we’re talking seconds. While the police do a great job, they can only be there in minutes. So, something we need to consider here instead of just a blanket policy of no weapons.”

Councilman Culotta then explained the process for obtaining a concealed carry permit in Delaware. He stated that an individual must take a class on the proper firearm safety rules and regulations as well as fire 100 rounds to demonstrate they can properly operate a weapon, have an FBI background check, five references from people in their county who will vouch for them and announce that they are getting a concealed carry in the paper. They must also pay a fee to get the permit. Councilman Culotta pointed out that the state does a good job of vetting those who can carry a concealed weapon and that adding the policy was going overboard.

“I actually agree with Todd,” Mayor Archie Campbell said. “Almost every mayor in Southern Delaware carries. I think if you go through a concealed carry class and you scrutinize that they have concealed carry, I think it will be okay.”

Councilman Mike Boyle disagreed with both Councilman Culotta and Mayor Campbell.

“I don’t think the workplace is a place for a gun,” Councilman Boyle said. “It is not the place for it. I find it confusing some of these weapons-free zones allowed concealed weapons. It doesn’t make sense to have a gun, concealed or not. It would be used to intimidate some people. You don’t know what the spark might be with somebody that would set somebody off. And yes, I agree that you don’t know what’s going to set somebody off and they couldn’t come back. But as an excuse, walking around with a gun, it’s just too many people are intimidated by that.”

Councilman Andy Fulton pointed out that a concealed carry permit was not about everyone knowing that someone was carrying a gun.

“If they know you have a gun, you have violated your CCW permit already,” Councilman Fulton said. “That would be brandishing and showing, and they could come take it from me, so, no, I wouldn’t have a CCW anymore. But, anyway, it’s for your own personal protection. And it’s not talked about. It’s kept away and that’s the way it is. The only time it would come out is for your own personal protection. Delaware is a state where the first method is escape, not pull your weapon out and starting shooting bullets at everything that moves. The first rule you are taught is to look for an escape route. It’s to avoid conflict and then, only, if necessary, would you then pull your weapon out and try to defend yourself if you have not escape path possible. And so, worrying about who has a weapon isn’t a fact. It’s not a matter of brandishing a weapon, it’s not a matter of showing people weapons, it’s a matter of something on your person that nobody knows about, period.”

One concern expressed by Councilman Jason James was that a policy like this could tamper with the constitutional rights of an employee. He also understood how other employees may be concerned about someone in the workplace with a gun. He wondered if it would be better to have a policy that would allow an employee to report someone they knew had a concealed carry permit who was acting suspiciously. The reporting mechanism could be sent to Milford Police Department who could then confiscate the gun temporarily.

“Coming from a family of in-laws of police officers, I’ve been around guns,” Councilman James said. “Infringing upon those rights is a slippery slope. Just want to be careful whatever we do. I’m not opposed to reasonable policy and if we could get a policy that accompanied the concealed carry allowance, that would be optimal, but I don’t know if that is possible. I do understand the concerns of those in the workplace.”

Councilman Culotta explained that he would like to get Chief Kenneth Brown’s opinion on the proposed changes.Set featured image

“I’ve always been a supporter of the right of people to be able to, good people, to be able to carry a gun because I believe that people who carry, you have the right to protect yourself,” Chief Brown said. “When you are in a government facility, you should still have that same right. Because if a bad guy or a person is bent on going out and killing people, he doesn’t care about your ordinance. He doesn’t care about the law; he’s coming there to do it. The only thing that will stop him is a good person with a firearm. That is the only thing that will stop him. It is going to be done and over with by the time we get there unless we happen to already be there, but it is not going to happen if we are there. When you’re referring to these gun free zones, they are easy targets, and you are actually putting yourself out there saying “I’m just going to lay here and take whatever you bring.” I don’t like that. I’m for the victims. My whole career has been for the victim. We need to stop being victims.”

Councilman Culotta pointed out that places like Family Court in Georgetown would not allow someone to carry a firearm inside, but that there were armed guards to take care of a problem should it arise. He also pointed out that the City of Milford did not have locked facilities where visitors were screened before they entered a city building.

“Most of this came from department heads who brought this to our attention,” Mark Whitfield, City Manager, said. “When you’re a department head or a supervisor and you’re rendering discipline on an employee, you have no idea if that employee is carrying a gun or not, or what may snap with the employee when you’re rendering discipline. I’ve been in this business for 42 years and I’ve never, ever, ever felt the need to carry a gun.”

Councilman Culotta stated that although he understood Whitfield’s opinion, the right to defend oneself was a Constitutional right to which Whitfield replied that he simply did not believe more guns were the answer. Councilman Culotta stated that he and Whitfield had a “distinct difference of opinion.” Councilman Boyle pointed out that Councilman Culotta had given examples of areas where guns were forbidden, and they had never been viewed as violating Constitutional rights because of those restrictions.

“I was in the military,” Councilman Boyle said. “I made a career out of it. I never thought I needed a gun other than exercising duties or preparing for other things. In my personal life, I have never owned one, I never needed one, I don’t see the need in them.”

Mayor Campbell again explained that open carry and concealed carry needed to be viewed separately. He noted that he had been in Walmart and viewed someone with a gun on their hip, explaining that he was sure the police had received calls about a guy in Walmart with a gun. However, he felt that concealed carry needed to be viewed differently.

“I just want to reiterate again that my hope is that if we do, we’re going to draft a policy that is coupled with or wrapped around concealed carry,” Councilman James said. “Because concealed carry covers a lot already where there are things you cannot do and there’s regulations on places that are going to be gun-free zones anyway, like Federal buildings, schools, things like that.”

The post office has signs that forbid weapons, Mayor Campbell stated. Whitfield pointed out that state law forbids weapons within so many feet of a playground. Since many city employees are within those areas daily, weapons could be an issue. Mayor Campbell explained that employees with concealed carry permits are well aware of the restrictions and if they come within so many feet of those areas or carry weapons into a building where they are forbidden, they are violating their permit. Both Mayor Campbell and Councilman Fulton explained that an employee with a concealed carry permit would know to lock the gun in a vehicle or place it somewhere so it would not lead to a violation.

“I believe this originated in the Public Works building,” Mike Svaby, Director of Public Works, said. “I’m not sure if it was public works personnel or others that work in our building. When we began to discuss this, I contacted the Attorney General’s office to try to get a little bit of background as I am not a gun owner myself. So, I know that if you open carry without CCW training and permitting, my concern is it puts people closer to the edge of making a decision they may not otherwise make. As a department manager, I feel responsible for the safety of all my employees, both from people driving up to the building, any city building for that matter, with some kind of egregious thought at hand, whether they think it is legitimate or not. I also have concerns about the safety within our ranks. You know, what may start out as a beef about a parking space, something like that could quickly have two employees swearing at each other over a parking space, which is an example of how things can escalate very quickly. That, unfortunately, is a real example. It didn’t escalate to anything physical, but if someone is carrying a weapon, open carry or concealed, it gives both parties other options.”

Svaby also pointed out that he asked the Attorney General if the city could ask employees to self-report that they have a concealed carry permit and was told that asking would be a violation of their Constitutional rights. Councilman Culotta stated that anyone who obtains a concealed carry permit would be required to advertise in the paper.

“I did follow up about that,” Svaby said. “You apparently only have to do that at the very beginning. When you renew, you don’t have to do that. So, I could be confronted with a disciplinary situation. Maybe the employee, and this is hypothetical, but maybe the employee feels it’s unjustified. They are already having a tough time. We’re dealing with COVID, we’re short-handed and then they are confronted with discipline, so they are already not in a stable frame of mind. I am about to tell them they are going to have two days off at home without pay because of their behavior or their choices. If you are a person who feels you have nothing to lose, your decisions are always drastic and overbearing.”

Councilman Fulton added to Svaby’s hypothetical situation.

“Then you have that customer who you just made fix his sidewalk and he is really ticked at you and comes in to blow your head off,” Councilman Fulton said. “That same employee who has a CCW steps in to neutralize the threat before the police come out and saves your life. How is that for another hypothetical?” Svaby stated that he didn’t disagree with Councilman Fulton’s example but that he felt department heads needed a mechanism where they could at least be made aware what employees had a concealed carry permit.

Williams told council that she had proposed that option to the city lawyers who advised her that asking would violate the employee’s First Amendment right to privacy.

“This is just a sticky, sticky subject,” Brad Dennehy, Director of Parks and Recreation, said. “I guess I just want to say to the mayor and council that I think all employees deserve the right to come to a safe workplace. I’ve been around the block here a little bit, close to 18 years. In the last 18 months, with COVID, I think mental health is really on edge. I think we’ve seen that what we’ve done with the police department, the behavioral health unit, and I applaud council for creating that position, but I think we’ve got short fuses across the board. I’ve received threats of violence from former employees, coming back and making threats to other employees to the point I’ve had employees afraid to come to work and I’ll throw myself in the same bracket as well. I think history has made some good inroads since those things have occurred with body cameras, security systems and we’ve had extra patrols from Chief Brown which I appreciate. We hear about [what happened] in Virginia Beach and I think the question is will it ever happen in Milford?”

There are two sides to every story, Dennehy continued.

“I could talk all night about where I come from and New Zealand and gun ownership,” Dennehy said. “Where the police are unarmed but we have the biggest gun ownership population in the world. Please give it a lot of thought because there’s a lot in it. Again, I’ll just come back from our perspective which is employee safety and employees wanting to feel safe coming to work.”

Williams and Whitfield agreed to do more research into the law in order to bring additional information back to council in the future.

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