BCC takes up guns in workplace

Debra W. Buehn
Posted 2/28/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Confronted with deadly issues that could affect employees, the Board of County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to take a good look at how the county should deal with its employees …

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BCC takes up guns in workplace

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Confronted with deadly issues that could affect employees, the Board of County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to take a good look at how the county should deal with its employees and their right to protect themselves.

Commissioners also decided to stage a workshop that will look at a related issue dealing with mental health services.

The issues came about in part due to the deadly shooting Feb. 14 in Broward County where 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed by a former student. Gavin Rollins, Clay County commission chairman, put the item on the BCC agenda, saying he did so for discussion for “the idea of changing the employee handbook to allow employees to protect themselves by carrying concealed if they have a Florida concealed carry license.”

“This measure was about allowing law-abiding employees with a concealed permit to exercise that right to protect themselves on the job,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “If one of our employees was ever faced with a horrible event, I’d want them to be able to defend themselves. They deserve that right to self-defense on the job. If they can carry safely they should have that right.”

Rollins also called for a workshop to review mental health services in Clay County. Since the Broward County killings, many people have cited mental health issues as a leading problem in the rash of tragic shootings that have plagued the country in past years.

“The goal is to make sure we have a comprehensive, collaborative approach to dealing with the mental health crisis,” Rollins said.

Rollins said he actually was looking at the concealed carry issue before the Broward County shooting. He had noticed that Okaloosa County, Florida had recently changed its employee manual to allow those with a concealed weapon permit to carry at work if they chose. In the meantime, the tragic shooting in Broward County occurred.

“I still think this is an appropriate discussion for this time because it goes to the heart of protecting our citizens – especially our law-abiding citizens,” he said, adding that his thought would be to change the county’s human resources policy to allow for “those who lawfully have a concealed weapon permit to carry in the same manner that any other citizen does.”

“That wouldn’t give them any additional privileges. It wouldn’t add to what they’re allowed to do. It would simply bring it in line with what other citizens are currently allowed to do,” he said.

As an illustration, Rollins used the idea of a county librarian who might have a concealed weapon permit. That person would not be able to carry their weapon to work in the library, but a citizen with a permit simply visiting the library would be able to carry their weapon.

Other counties and municipalities have also started changing their rules, he said.

Offering his input, Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels said carry laws are basically covered by Florida statutes, and care must be taken not to supersede those statutes. Daniels also said that if the county decided to move in the direction of allowing employees to carry in the workplace, he would want to know how many people “we’re talking about” and that it would have to be on a voluntary basis, with proper training involved.

“I like the idea that we’re trying to do something proactive and if the Clay County Sheriff’s office can assist in that endeavor then you’ve got my commitment and I’m on the record with that,” he said.

Current policy is somewhat unclear, county staff members said.

“It’s interesting because in our policy it has “disciplinary action” but it does not say that you can or cannot carry,” said Stephanie Kopelousos, county manager, adding that basically, state law allows employees to keep their weapon in their cars in the parking lot.

County Attorney Courtney Grimm indicated that some of the problems with looking at a different policy would deal with “mechanics,” including such things as fire and rescue employees and what would they do with weapons if they had to respond to an emergency. Things to be considered would include would it be all right for the weapons to be in a county vehicle, she said.

Both county commissioners Diane Hutchings and Wayne Bolla said they have carry permits (as does Rollins). Hutchings said she was not yet comfortable actually carrying and had talked to the sheriff about whether he would be willing to do training and evaluations for safety purposes.

Hutchings said she was generally in favor of a new policy but wanted to make sure it was “well thought out.”

“We need to plan,” she said.

Bolla also said he thought planning was important, and that there could be some “pitfalls” in the issue.

“It’s going to take some study. I sort of have a rule of thumb if I feel like I have to carry a gun I don’t go there,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Cella said his main question would be how many employees would be interested in carrying, or would want the issue pursued.

“Most of them that have already talked to me answered in a negative fashion (that) they did not want us to pursue that,” he said.

However, Rollins said he believed it was a “fundamental right” for the employees.

“It’s not necessarily that a ton of employees want it. I believe it’s such a fundamental right that they should have that opportunity. But I definitely think that a lot of the points brought up are good in terms of making sure that we do it the right way,” he said.

In the end, commissioners requested staff to research the idea and bring back policy considerations for the commissioners to discuss.

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