In the wake of a workplace shooting at the Center for Community Health earlier in the month, Clark County commissioners are directing their legal staff to draft a new policy allowing county employees to carry concealed weapons.
Commissioners Tom Mielke and David Madore on Wednesday requested that Chris Horne, the county's chief civil deputy prosecutor, investigate what revisions could be made to the county's workplace violence policy to allow employees to carry concealed firearms. Commissioner Steve Stuart was absent from the meeting.
The county's current policy prohibits employees from bringing concealed firearms at work, even if they have a permit to do so. Other people, including elected officials and the public, are exempt from the policy and may bring weapons into some county buildings.
New language would address those discrepancies, the two commissioners said, and allow employees to properly defend themselves while on the job. Mielke and Madore say loosening the county's prohibition on employees carrying concealed guns would deter future acts of workplace violence and ensure equal rights.
The policy would still prohibit concealed weapons from being brought into the courthouse, sheriff's office and county-owned juvenile facilities.
The direction came a little more than two weeks after a former Veterans Affairs employee allegedly entered a VA office at the Center for Community Health and shot her former supervisor. The former supervisor, Allen Bricker, survived being shot but suffered life-threatening wounds. The alleged shooter, Deborah Lennon, was arrested and charged with first-degree attempted murder, stalking, cyberstalking and first-degree assault.
While the shooting happened inside a county building, the Veterans Affairs office is run by the federal government.
At a Feb. 5 meeting, commissioners first discussed drafting new provisions for the employee policy, to bring it in line with what's allowed for the general public and elected officials, both of whom may carry concealed guns into county buildings.
Mielke and Stuart, for example, both have licenses to carry concealed weapons.
Concerns over whether drafting a new gun policy could be viewed as a reactionary response to a workplace shooting were addressed by commissioners, who said that wasn't their intention.
On Wednesday, Madore said commissioners were simply working to ensure the safety of employees. Without a new policy in place, he said, employees could be "easy, quick pickings" for bad guys with guns.
"It's appropriate for us to draft a better solution," he said.
But while county commissioners have been exploring loosening gun restrictions, gun control advocates called it an illogical move and said it sent the wrong message.
"A gun is not a defensive tool, it's an offensive tool," said Heidi Yewman, a Vancouver-based gun control advocate. "A gun won't do you any good unless you are holding it out and ready to fire."
The state's concealed carry law is also problematic, she said, because there's no requirement for the permit holder to receive gun safety training. All that's required is a background check and a 30-day wait.
Another problem, gun control advocates say, is that workplaces are ill-suited environments for guns because emotions between co-workers can run high.
"All the evidence points to the fact that more guns in one place leads to more violence," said Lindsay Nichols, an attorney for the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "There was evidence in the past, but it was thoroughly debunked.
From the statistics her organization collects, there's no evidence that the presence of guns deters gun violence.
Government workers, however, appear to fare better than their private-sector counterparts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of workplace shootings, 86 percent, happened in the private sector in 2010.
Loosening the county's gun-control policies won't likely receive blowback from the state, which allows local municipalities to enact their own polices as long as they don't violate state law. If there is a conflict, then the local jurisdiction must tweak its code to bring it in line. That happened in 2011, when the county legalized carrying guns in parks, bringing the county in line with state law.
For now, the policy is in the hands of the county's legal team and the human resources department. It's unclear whether the public will have an opportunity to address the policy before commissioners address it.
Horne, the county's chief deputy prosecutor, said the county will be required to hold a public hearing only if the new policy requires a code revision. If it doesn't, then they can approve the policy change at a public meeting.